Investigating defensible space and the criminogenic capacity of characteristic British housing designs.
This thesis investigates the criminogenic capacity of characteristic residential housing
designs found in the British city. This exploratory study collected and analysed both
qualitative and quantitative data concerning the perceptions of major stakeholders in
society (planning professionals, police officers, convicted burglars and young adults)
regarding these design typologies. This design-specific approach highlights the
crucial significance of 'image' and subjective perceptions in the 'design-affects-crime'
debate thereby representing an innovative and original contribution. Newman's
theory of 'Defensible Space' (1973) is convincingly supported, in that single family
dwelling units such as detached, semi-detached and terraced housing, were
perceived by all groups to be less prone to criminality. Low-rise and high-rise flats,
however, were viewed in more negative terms, as highly criminogenic and fearinducing.
To probe the complex relationship between the social and physical
dimensions of urban residential space, various designs of contrasting and polarised
levels of upkeep were selected for investigation. Significantly, designs with visible
'signs of decay' that were poorly-maintained were consistently perceived to be both
more criminogenic and fear inducing. Newman's third 'defensible space' element of
'image and milieu' is underpinned, in addition to the 'Broken Windows' theory of
Wilson and Kelling (1982). It is established that design, per se, is not the definitive
explanatory factor for criminality. Rather, it is the crucial socio-economic and
demographic associations attached to these designs that influences perceptions of
crime / deviancy, 'defensible space' and the fear of crime. The 'image' of the design
can significantly affect levels of perceived defensibility. It is demonstrated that
probing the subjective and perceptual elements to crime and fear of crime provides a
useful analysis to pursue alongside the traditional approaches of utilising recorded
crime statistics and published socio-economic and demographic data to guide policy
responses and crime prevention through environmental design initiatives.
Understanding the subjective reality of the fear of crime and how 'defensible space' is
perceived can assist in the campaign to improve urban design and inform the Home
Office's 'Secured By Design' initiative. This work underpins the journey towards
understanding 'safer cities' and contributes to the design-affects-crime debate