The defensible space theory
of architect and city planner Oscar Newman encompasses ideas about crime prevention and neighborhood safety. The theory developed in the early 1970s, and he wrote his first book on the topic, Defensible Space
in 1972. The book contains a study from New York that pointed out that higher crime rate existed in high-rise apartment buildings than in lower housing projects
Public housing is a form of housing tenure in which the property is owned by a government authority, which may be central or local. Social housing is an umbrella term referring to rental housing which may be owned and managed by the state, by non-profit organizations, or by a combination of the...
. This, he concluded, was because residents felt no control or personal responsibility for an area occupied by so many people. Throughout his study, Newman focused on explaining his ideas on social control
Social control refers generally to societal and political mechanisms or processes that regulate individual and group behavior, leading to conformity and compliance to the rules of a given society, state, or social group. Many mechanisms of social control are cross-cultural, if only in the control...
, crime prevention
Crime prevention is the attempt to reduce victimization and to deter crime and criminals. It is applied specifically to efforts made by governments to reduce crime, enforce the law, and maintain criminal justice.-Studies:...
, and public health in relation to community design.
As defined in Newman’s book Design Guidelines for Creating Defensible Space
, defensible space is defined as "a term used to describe a residential environment whose physical characteristics—building layout and site plan—function to allow inhabitants themselves to become key agents in ensuring their security." He goes on to explain that a housing development
Subdivision is the act of dividing land into pieces that are easier to sell or otherwise develop, usually via a plat. The former single piece as a whole is then known in the United States as a subdivision...
is only defensible if residents intend to adopt this role, which is defined by good design. “Defensible space therefore is a sociophysical phenomenon,” says Newman. Both society and physical elements are both parts of a successful defensible space.
The theory argues that an area is safer when people feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for that piece of a community. Newman asserts that "the criminal is isolated because his turf is removed" when each space in an area is owned and cared for by a responsible party. If an intruder can sense a watchful community, he feels less secure committing his crime. The idea is that crime and delinquency can be controlled and mitigated through environmental design
Environmental design is the process of addressing surrounding environmental parameters when devising plans, programs, policies, buildings, or products...
There are four factors that make a defensible space:
- Territoriality – the idea that one's home is sacred
- Natural surveillance – the link between an area's physical characteristics and the residents' ability to see what is happening
- Image – the capacity of the physical design to impart a sense of security
- Milieu – other features that may affect security, such as proximity to a police substation or busy commercial area
The concept of defensible space is controversial. A United States Department of Justice
The United States Department of Justice , is the United States federal executive department responsible for the enforcement of the law and administration of justice, equivalent to the justice or interior ministries of other countries.The Department is led by the Attorney General, who is nominated...
experiment in Hartford, Connecticut
Hartford is the capital of the U.S. state of Connecticut. The seat of Hartford County until Connecticut disbanded county government in 1960, it is the second most populous city on New England's largest river, the Connecticut River. As of the 2010 Census, Hartford's population was 124,775, making...
closed streets and assigned police teams to the neighborhood, and brought new public housing projects designed around ideas of limited access to the city, but Hartford did not show any dramatic drop in crime. Yet, the private place
A private place is a self-governing enclave whose common areas are owned by the residents, and whose services are provided by the private sector....
s of St. Louis do have much lower crime than public streets. The reason appears to be that in St. Louis, people had the capacity and incentives to defend their defensible spaces. Residents had the right to ask an unwelcome individual (i.e. not a resident or guest) to leave their street, because they jointly owned it. On public streets, one cannot legally act against someone until they have committed a crime.
The intention of physical features is to create a sense of territorialism
Territorialism, also known as Statism , was a Jewish political movement calling for creation of a sufficiently large and compact Jewish territory , not necessarily in the Land of Israel and not necessarily fully autonomous.-Development of territorialism:Before 1905 some Zionist leaders took...
in community members which will ensure a safe living environment for those that care for it. Defensible space works with a hierarchy of living and community spaces. According to the theory, housing developments that evoke territorialism are “the strongest deterrents to criminal and vandal activity.” Housing should be grouped in such a way that members feel a mutual benefit. Also to deter crime, areas should be defined for function, paths should be defined for movement, outdoor areas should be juxtaposed with homes, and indoor spaces should visually provide for close watch of outside areas.
Newman holds that through good design, people should not only feel comfortable questioning what is happening in their surroundings, but they should feel obligated to do so. Any intruder should be able to sense the existence of a watchful community and avoid the situation altogether. Criminals fear the likelihood that a resident, upon viewing the intrusion, would then question their actions. This is highly effective in neighborhoods that cannot afford a professional crime watch
Crime watch may refer to:* Crime watch or neighborhood watch, a citizens' organization devoted to crime prevention within a neighborhood* Neighbourhood Watch , neighbourhood watch in the UK* Crimewatch, a British television show on BBC One...
The defensible space theory is applicable to any type of planned space. From low density housing to high rises, the key is the development of a communal area in which residents can “extend the realm of their homes and the zone of felt responsibility.” Circulation paths and common entry are important aspects of defensible design as well. Residents must also feel a need to extend their protective attitudes to locations where property and urban streets and surroundings connect. The interfacing between private property and community space should be protected similarly.
Newman’s intent in creating the principles of defensible space is to give the residents of a community control of public space
A public space is a social space such as a town square that is open and accessible to all, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age or socio-economic level. One of the earliest examples of public spaces are commons. For example, no fees or paid tickets are required for entry, nor are the entrants...
s that they formerly felt were out of reach. In effect, residents care enough for their area to protect it from crime as they would protect their own private property.
Oscar Newman’s basic five principles of designing defensible space as quoted in Design Guidelines for Creating Defensible Guidelines are as follows:
- The assignment to different resident groups the specific environments they are best able to utilize and control, as determined by their ages, life-styles, socializing proclivities, backgrounds, incomes, and family structures.
- The territorial definition of space in residential developments to reflect the zone of influence of specific inhabitants. Residential environments should be subdivided into zones toward which adjacent residents can easily adopt proprietary attitudes.
- The juxtaposition of dwelling interiors with exterior spaces and the placement of windows to allow residents to naturally survey the exterior and interior public areas of their living environments and the areas assigned for their use.
- The juxtaposition of dwellings—their entries and amenities—with city streets so as to incorporate the streets within the sphere of influence of the residential environment.
- The adoption of building forms and idioms that avoids the stigma of peculiarity that allows others to perceive the vulnerability and isolation of a particular group of inhabitants.
To create a defensible space community, residential areas should be subdivided into smaller entities of similar families because control is enhanced. Responsibility for the area is more easily assumed in a smaller group of families as opposed to a larger community
The term community has two distinct meanings:*a group of interacting people, possibly living in close proximity, and often refers to a group that shares some common values, and is attributed with social cohesion within a shared geographical location, generally in social units larger than a household...
. Smaller groups more frequently use an area geared toward them. The number of activities in the space is increased; thus, a feeling of ownership and a need to protect the property follows. On the other hand, when larger groups use a community space, no one has control over the area, and an agreement over its acceptable uses is often in dispute.
Oscar Newman’s defensible space theory was largely popular in city design from its emergence until the 1980s. Some of his basic ideas are still taken into consideration presently, however. Although changes were made in the implementation of the theory in the 1990s, Newman’s basic principles still exist in design.
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- Creating Defensible Space
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