1B) Safety

One of the most empowering emotions is that of feeling safe and not having to worry about crime.

This unfortunately, is not always possible, even when perceived levels of crime are greater than the actual threat (as is often the case). Safe streets – for ourselves and our family – is central to our quality of life, giving us freedom, particularly after dark. However, many areas suffer from problems with gangs and drugs, with knife crime becoming a particular issue in recent years.

Security and Design

These problems can be exacerbated by the way that neighbourhoods are designed. Large areas of badly-lit, semi-public space for which no one feels responsible breed both crime and fear of crime. By contrast, many traditional urban areas have a very clear distinction between public and private space, the former including streets, squares and parks that are well-lit and overlooked by surrounding buildings and feel safer.

Guidance on designing for crime is provided by the Police’s Secured by Design initiative, which includes separate documents on housing, commercial space, schools, hospitals and sheltered accommodation. The key message is that security can be achieved through the design of the neighbourhood rather than CCTV, high fences and gated communities.

This should include a clear distinction between the public front of buildings and the private backs. A secure boundary between the two means that people without the right to do so cannot gain access to private gardens and the rear of properties. The security of streets and other public spaces is ensured by ‘passive surveillance’, which means that people feel themselves being observed. This includes windows (eyes on the street) as well as passers-by.

Security and Community

Having ‘eyes on the street’ works even when there is no one behind the windows because potential criminals don’t know if anyone is home. However, it works even better when people feel able and willing to intervene – something that relates back to a sense of community. This can include Neighbourhood Watch groups and cooperation between communities and the police community liaison officers. It can also include local wardens, concierges, youth workers, park keepers and police community support officers. Some of these roles have diminished or disappeared in recent years, but community management remains an effective tool at increasing safety.

What You Can Do

Communities

A good start is to review or audit all of the activity already taking place locally, which is often more than you would think. Bringing these groups together for a structured visioning event can be useful in setting priorities and opening-up a dialogue with the.

Developers and Designers

A good start is to review or audit all of the activity already taking place locally, which is often more than you would think. Bringing these groups together for a structured visioning event can be useful in setting priorities and opening-up a dialogue with the.

Councils

A good start is to review or audit all of the activity already taking place locally, which is often more than you would think. Bringing these groups together for a structured visioning event can be useful in setting priorities and opening-up a dialogue with the.

Case study

1B) King’s Crescent Estate, London

King’s Crescent Estate was originally completed in 1971. Ground-floor garages and long shared balconies with multiple entry points made the site challenging to navigate and keep safe. Unpopular high-rise tower blocks were demolished in the 1990s, leaving gaps and wasteland and creating a sense of disillusionment and abandonment in the estate community.

The 2017 redevelopment focused on regular community engagement, training and upskilling, with residents involved in site-wide planning of new streets and homes. Karakusevic Carson Architects led the redesign, which involved the refurbishment of 275 existing homes, the creation of 490 new homes and a new landscape and public realm. The development is divided into multiple phases over a five-year masterplan, providing 41% social rent, 10% shared ownership and 49% private sale.

A high-quality design saw existing homes upgraded with balconies and winter gardens, and residents were able to remain in their flats throughout.

Poor maintenance and a lack of ownership over large underused public realm areas and garage spaces had led to vandalism, crime and decay. The redesign saw garages converted into ground floor flats overlooking reconfigured and upgraded public spaces, with three courtyards accommodating a range of activities.

Awkward thresholds between public and private gardens were carefully resolved with low walls and planters, while inside passages had secure entry door systems installed, and long corridors subdivided to create defined areas in which neighbours can socialise. Glazed entrance lobbies in the new blocks allow views through from street to courtyard.

A key success of the project is the social stability and sustainability achieved through active and regular engagement with the local community. A Residents Group and a Neighbourhood Watch have developed, which has also led to an improved sense of community safety.

Residents have commented that they are enjoying their new balconies, winter gardens and courtyards where their children can play safely.

Images courtesy of Muf Architecture/Art, Jim Stephenson