Monday 30 June 2014

'Designing out crime,' panopticism, etc. etc.

An interesting article today in the Guardian on 'designing out crime' by modifications made to the built environment through planning and design processes:
“You want the rooms most regularly inhabited to be in view of any potential criminals,” says Craig. “It’s what we call ‘natural surveillance’: we like ‘active frontages’ to overlook communal areas so that people are seen and can be seen. The more windows overlooking the street and public spaces, the better.” Enforcing clear boundaries is also important, making distinctions between public and private space with fences and hedges.
The crime figures for the area suggest good design has indeed deterred criminals: between 2011 and 2014, just five burglaries were reported in Greenheys, compared with 76 in the surrounding square kilometre. “The fact the estate looks nice helps a lot,” reckons Craig. “If it looks grim, people behave in an accordingly grim way. I think this development shows that compliance with our recommendations doesn’t stifle innovative design. It’s a challenge to planners and architects, sure, but if it’s done right, there’s still scope for imagination.”
There's no doubt that bad urban design (and what mid-twentieth-century architecture in Britain wasn't abominable?) substantially contributes to a poor quality of life – including suffering crime; however, the problem with this is, of course, that it poses a technical fix to essentially political problems. Still, it's an interesting case of the sociology of translation in action.

There's another article from last week about these same practices in Scandinavia. I don't know much about criminology but it'd be interesting to see how this fits in with Scandinavia's generally more progressive approach to crime and punishment. Is it possible to mobilise technical solutions to such problems without this effectively tarmacing over their political causes?