Laurence Aurbach writes:
What follows is a rebuttal to the article "Crime-Friendly Neighborhoods" by Stephen Town and Randal O'Toole, in the Feb. 2005 issue of Reason magazine. For those who prefer an executive summary, I begin with a letter to the editors of Reason. After that, I go through a point-by-point rebuttal complete with sources and citations.
To the Editor, Reason Magazine:
Town and O'Toole's article contains many distortions and misinformation; so much so that it is an embarrassment to the authors and to Reason magazine.
New urbanists regard Oscar Newman as a groundbreaking writer and designer, and in their practice they have taken his design prescriptions to heart. Conversely, Town and O'Toole have flagrantly twisted and misread Newman's findings. According to Newman, natural surveillance is a critical element of crime prevention. In residential areas this is identical to Jane Jacobs' "eyes on the street" concept.
Newman was fully in favor of public, shared space provided it was situated and designed correctly. His designs are replete with examples of interior courts, parks, playgrounds and tot lots. His primary concerns were that the shared spaces be located within residents' zones of influence, and that their boundaries be clearly demarcated. This is what Newman meant by "reducing permeability." Newman made no overall recommendation to close off streets and paths that had adequate natural surveillance, and indeed, he was generally in favor of increased circulation. He noted with disapproval a "superblock, created by closing off existing streets." Describing his design for Indianapolis public housing, he wrote, "we have developed a system of streets to penetrate the entire site" where increased circulation would "greatly facilitate" police patrols. The street layout had no cul-de-sacs; rather, it used T-intersections to reduce through traffic -- a technique often used by new urbanists.
Newman's own design prescriptions state that residences should look over, and be associated with, adjacent streets and land. A key technique, he wrote, is "the close juxtaposition of the building with the street so that as many apartment interiors and building entries as possible face the street." The narrower the street, the more of it that will fall under residents' zones of influence; Newman described a 20-foot-wide, eighteenth-century Dutch street with approval. He criticized residential buildings that were turned away from the street, with parking lots in front. He recommended sidewalks and on-street parking, and for single family dwellings, setbacks no greater than 25 feet.
New urbanists put Defensible Space policies into practice to redevelop a public housing project in Norfolk, Va. The result was a dramatic drop in crime. A study of eight public housing projects redeveloped according to new urbanist principles found overall economic improvement, along with reduced crime in four cities where records were available.
Town and O'Toole misrepresent the report, "Closing Streets and Alleys to Reduce Crime." The studies cited in the report only looked at the short-term effects of street closings. Many crime experts agree that street closings can be effective in the short term, but long term solutions involve more comprehensive strategies. The report references only eight credible studies, which are self-selected for positive results, usually unable to control for related effects such as increased police presence, and applicable to just a few specific locations and situations.
Meanwhile, other research suggests that spaces with a combination of highly-visible frontages and through traffic on well-connected networks have fewer crimes than comparable cul-de-sac neighborhoods. Computerized analyses (known as "Space Syntax") supporting this conclusion are cited by the UK's Home Office Crime Reduction Centre. Following the largest urban crime study undertaken in the southern hemisphere, a city planner with Gosnells, Australia, said, "The cul de sac developments, that characterised residential development over the last 30 years, appear to be an invitation to crime in that they reduced pedestrian movement and accessibility to facilities."
The bottom line is how our society addresses threats and the fear of strangers. The crude and invasive gates, barricades, fences and street closures that are so much a feature of post 9-11 landscaping (especially in our nation's capital) are expressions of fear, not strength, and may in the long run be counterproductive. Crowds of people on commercial streets may experience more crime than those in a patrolled mall. But at the same time it is that freedom, openness and interaction that many believe is the most valuable feature of great towns and cities. Those who cherish cities can appreciate Daniel Patrick Moynihan's attitude toward threats: "Ours must be openness and fearlessness in the face of those who hide in the darkness. A precaution, yes, sequester, no."
Rebuttal to Town and O’Toole’s "Crime-Friendly Neighborhoods"
1) Burras Road: The Burras Road example does not prove that increased connectivity causes crime. It may prove that one specific bike path was poorly designed, with insufficient natural surveillance. However, Town and O’Toole might not be providing all the relevant information. According to local newspaper reports, both the homeowners association and the city council have refused the residents’ requests to close the bike path. So this is not a matter of dogmatic city planners alone.
2) Misrepresenting new urbanism: Once again, O’Toole is painting a false portrait of new urbanism. Criticisms such as his have been repeated so many times that the Congress for the New Urbanism has a page of "Frequently Asked Questions" on its website to address them. Naturally, Town and O’Toole choose to ignore this information.
2a) Choice: Town and O’Toole write, "The Congress for the New Urbanism, founded in 1993, declares on its Web site that 'All development should be in the form of compact, walkable neighborhoods.' " A Google search indicates that this phrase does not appear on the CNU website. However, it is an accurate statement of the preferences of new urbanists. It is not a policy prescription for coercion. From the CNU’s Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: Is CNU in favor of requiring development to be New Urbanist?
A: Today's regulations overwhelmingly stop New Urbanist development from being built. We are in favor of repealing these anti-choice rules. In some locations, codes mandating good urbanism make sense. They make sense in downtown areas, historic cities, and places where the demand for New Urbanism far exceeds the supply. However, we are not interested in coercing people to live in New Urbanism. We believe it will succeed on market demand.
2b) Congestion: Old and new urbanism does reduce congestion within neighborhoods of small, well-connected blocks because traffic is dispersed and bottlenecks are eliminated. Outside of such neighborhoods, on arterials and highways that channel and concentrate traffic with no alternative routes, old and new urbanism will be of little help. However, old and new urbanism does reduce per capita driving, and several studies have confirmed this.* Town and O’Toole say, "Denser development did not significantly reduce per capita driving," but this is patently false. Even Wendell Cox will tell you that per capita, people in dense urban areas put 40% fewer vehicle miles on their cars. Some studies analyzing specific urban neighborhoods find the number of vehicle miles traveled per capita is one-quarter that of suburbanites.
* Including but not limited to: Handy, Susan L. and Kelly J. Clifton, "Local Shopping as a Strategy for Reducing Automobile Travel," Transportation, Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 317-346. 2001. Handy, Susan L., "Urban form and pedestrian choices: Study of Austin neighborhoods." Transportation Research Record, 1552, 135-144. 1996. Krizek, Kevin, "Residential Relocation and Changes in Urban Travel: Does Neighborhood-Scale Urban Form Matter?" Journal of the American Planning Association, Spring (2003), Vol. 69, No. 3. Rajamani, et al., "Assessing the impact of urban form measures in nonwork trip mode choice after controlling for demographic and level-of-service effects," Transportation Research Board 2003 Annual Meeting CD-ROM.
2c) Health: Over centuries, the suburbs have been promoted as healthier than city living. Credible research is now appearing that indicates that suburban developments may not be the health panacea they have been sold as.** As for specific research studies about the health impacts of new urban communities, none have been performed yet. Most new urban communities have been in existence for only a few years -- not long enough to evaluate health impacts.
** Including but not limited to: Howard Frumkin, Lawrence Frank and Richard Jackson, Urban Sprawl and Public Health: Designing, Planning and Building for Healthy Communities, 2004; Sturm, R., and D. A. Cohen, "Suburban Sprawl and Physical and Mental Health." Public Health, Vol. 118, No. 7, 2004.
2d) Schools: The new urbanist recommendations for schools are in line with many other organizations and movements such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. New urbanists promote small, neighborhood-oriented, pedestrian accessible schools in renovated, historic facilities wherever possible. Such guidelines do in fact result in better-performing, more economical schools. They are sited in locations that provide a point of community pride and that allow students to walk or bike along much safer routes. See David Goldberg, "Of Sprawl Schools and Small Schools," On Common Ground, National Association of Realtors.
There are tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of children living in new urban communities. Many parents in new urban communities believe they live in the best place for raising children. They deeply care about and are involved with the quality of their local schools. A key element of new urbanism is "An elementary school is close enough so that most children can walk from their home."
3) Defensible Space Concepts: New urbanists regard Oscar Newman as a groundbreaking writer and designer, and in their practice they have taken his design prescriptions to heart. Conversely, Town and O’Toole have flagrantly twisted and misread Newman’s findings.
It was modernist, Corbusier-inspired "towers in the park" site planning that Newman found so dangerous. Specifically, Newman recommended against "nebulous" private land surrounding residences that appeared to be owned by no one. He wrote that, through design, land should be marked and associated with adjacent buildings and clusters of buildings (Design Guidelines for Creating Defensible Space, p. 106). This creates "zones of influence," spaces that residents will monitor and feel responsibility for (p. 105). According to Newman, natural surveillance is a critical element of crime prevention. Whatever the details of his criticism of Jane Jacobs, this is identical to her "eyes on the street" concept.
Newman observed that in traditional urban design, residents' zone of influence is extended into the street (p. 43). His own recommendations for new projects include guidelines for accomplishing this (p.116). His design prescriptions state that residences should look over, and be associated with, adjacent streets and land. A key technique is "the close juxtaposition of the building with the street so that as many apartment interiors and building entries as possible face the street." (p.118) The narrower the street, the more of it that will fall under residents' zone of influence (p. 121); Newman described a 20-foot-wide, eighteenth-century Dutch street with approval (pp. 40-41). He criticized residential buildings that were turned away from the street, with parking lots in front (p.119). He recommended sidewalks and on-street parking (p. 121), and for single family dwellings, setbacks no greater than 25 feet (p.77).
Newman was fully in favor of public, shared space provided it was situated and designed correctly. His designs are replete with examples of interior courts, parks, playgrounds and tot lots (pp. 111-115, 126-156). His primary concerns were that the shared spaces be located within residents' zones of influence, and that their boundaries be clearly demarcated. This is what Newman meant by "reducing permeability." Newman made no overall recommendation to close off streets and paths that had adequate natural surveillance, and indeed, he was generally in favor of increased circulation. He noted with disapproval a "superblock, created by closing off existing streets" (p.117). Describing his design for Indianapolis public housing, he wrote, "we have developed a system of streets to penetrate the entire site" where increased circulation would "greatly facilitate" police patrols (p. 154). The street layout had no cul-de-sacs; rather, it used T-intersections to reduce through traffic -- a technique often used by new urbanists.
New urbanists put Defensible Space policies into practice to redevelop a public housing project in Norfolk, Va. The result was a dramatic drop in crime; see "Restoring Community through Traditional Neighborhood Design: A Case Study of Diggs Town Public Housing." A study of eight public housing projects redeveloped according to new urbanist principles found overall economic improvement, along with reduced crime in four cities where records were available. See "Assessing Economic Change in HOPE VI Neighborhoods." Also relevant is Robert Stueteville's editorial in which he argues that new urbanism is compatible with most of the goals of Secured by Design: "New Urbanism Does Not Promote Crime."
4) Closing Streets and Alleys to Reduce Crime: These quotes are taken directly from the "Closing Streets" guide:
"The guide does not cover temporary street closures during demonstrations, festivals, and sporting events; street closures as part of a traffic-calming scheme, or to reduce cruising (which falls under traffic calming); securing apartment complexes (whether public or private) with fences and gates; securing facilities such as parking lots or shopping malls by entrance closures or fence installation; crime-inhibiting street layouts in new residential neighborhoods (this is best considered at the planning and design stage of new developments, not in response to current crime problems); and so-called 'gated communities,' small residential developments for middle-class or wealthy residents; in this country, these enclaves are usually designed as such from the beginning, not subsequently created out of previously public streets."
"Unfortunately, only a relatively small number of projects involving street closures have been evaluated (for example, no published evaluations exist of substantial street-closure schemes in Dallas; Houston; Chicago; Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Oakland, California and the studies that have been published tend to focus on successful projects, simply because studies of unsuccessful projects are less likely to be published. Furthermore, not all research studies on street closures are well designed."
"To help you decide how much weight to place on each study, Table 1 includes ratings of the research designs' quality: weak, adequate, or strong. You will see that several of the studies are rated as weak, and you should be aware that even those rated as adequate or strong have their limitations. Few of them can separate the effects of street or alley closings from those of other measures taken at the same time, and few examine the effects on crime or disorder for more than a year. This means that little is known about street closure's long-term effects."
--Ronald V. Clarke, "Closing Streets and Alleys to Reduce Crime: Should You Go Down This Road?"
To sum up, "Closing Streets" references only eight credible studies, which are self-selected for positive results, usually unable to control for related effects such as increased police presence, and applicable to just a few specific locations and situations.
5) Hulme: Hulme is in fact recognized as good example of urban regeneration in Britain. In the book "Urban Villages and the Making of Communities," David Lunts writes "In Hulme, Manchester, more than 2,000 new homes have been constructed around an infrastructure of linked streets and squares, in an explicit attempt to capture something of the character of the dense urban neighborhood that was torn down to make way for disastrous urban flats in the 1960s" (p. 199), and Hollingsworth, et al, write, "Hulme in Manchester is perhaps the best example where a high level of investment and significant intervention seems to have worked" (p. 141).
What’s more, Hulme is featured in Ian Colquhoun’s book, "Design Out Crime: Creating Safe and Sustainable Communities" as a case study of a "safe and sustainable" community.
Stephen Town has not publicized his study of Hulme, but he did make a brief reply to Robert Steuteville’s PLANetizen op-ed. His criticism seems to be that Hulme has communal and "pretty ugly" rear courtyards. He finds Hulme's crime figures to be "frightening," but does not mention if the new development has improved crime rates. Other sources confirm that the area has seen a reduction in crime (see below)
Mr. Town made a reference to a website about Secured by Design principles, www.designagainstcrime.org. That website contains a case study about Hulme, written by the Design Against Crime team, that is described like this:
"Hulme Park in Manchester: An inner-city park was redeveloped in an area of Manchester notorious for robbery and burglary. The park had to be safe and open to different users. The open-plan style includes pathways connecting the park to the rest of the city. The permeable boundary encourages use and inclusiveness, yet can easily be repaired."
"The apartments facing the park cost £20,000 more than their counterparts facing away from the park. The park has been relatively free from crime and was described by a local Police Officer as “a triumph of design”. While the area has seen a reduction in crime, it should be noted that the whole area has changed with new housing and the influx of new residents, thus making it difficult to establish the impact of the park."
So all the sources I’ve found, including those referenced by Mr. Town, claim that Hulme is a model of urban regeneration and crime reduction practices.
6a) Other research: Research teams using Space Syntax analysis have excellent information to contribute to this discussion. Their research on the relationship between street patterns and crime is summarized on their "Housing and Crime" page.
6b) A relevant study is "Do Burglars Understand Defensible Space? New evidence on the relation between crime and space." A sample excerpt:
"These results suggest that there is no single spatial factor which deters crime. Several factors must be present together. On the whole, linear integrated spaces with some through movement and strong intervisibility of good numbers of entrances (highly 'constituted') are the safest spaces, while visually broken up spaces, with little movement potential and few intervisible entrances (poorly constituted) are the worst. This is all confirmed by statistical analysis, which also shows that you are safer from burglary from carriageways than from footpaths, and from spaces with good visual connections rather than from visually isolated parts.
"We cannot then simply say that through streets are better than cul de sacs. They can be, but it all depends on all the other properties being present. In our third town, for example, there are two parallel through roads adjacent to each other, one with very high intervisibility of dwelling entrances, the other with entrance intervisibility everywhere broken up by long driveways with high hedges, concealed entrances, and 'cul de sac drives' giving secluded access to a few dwellings. The former has virtually no crime, while the latter is a veritable crime 'hot line'. We fully expect, then, that there will be areas where linear, well-constituted shallow cul de sacs will be safer than poorly constituted, visually broken up and spatially segregated through spaces. It all depends on how the local 'menu' of layout targets is put together. Criminals will always select the most vulnerable locations on offer."
Original research on which this paper is based includes: "Spatial configuration and vulnerability of residential burglary: a case study of a city in Taiwan."
6c) From the UK’s Home Office Crime Reduction Centre website:
"Through detailed spatial analysis Hiller and Shu found that the type of public spaces from which burglary was least likely to occur were ‘through carriageways, with good movement potential and visual links, and with a good number of line neighbours opening on to both sides of the carriageway’. In other words: the common or garden street!"
"The type of public space from which burglary was most likely to occur were ‘dead-end footpaths with little movement and visibility and few line neighbours’. Hillier and Shu’s conclusions were only possible by detailed spatial analysis. They could not have reached such conclusions by simply mapping burglaries using postal addresses. Such information would not have revealed how burglarised properties were entered."
"For more information see Hillier, B. and Shu, S. (2000) 'Crime and Urban Layout: The Need for Evidence' in Ballintyne, S., Pease, K. and McLaren, V. Secure Foundations: Key Issues in Crime Prevention, Crime Reduction and Community Safety London: IPPR."
-- From "Introduction to Micro-spatial Analysis"
6d) From a Space Syntax press release, Oct. 30, 2003:
"Space Syntax's work with The City of Gosnells in Western Australia has helped to win two Crime and Violence awards [for reducing crime] from the Australian Institute of Criminology. The City of Gosnells' "Safe City" strategy was launched after a three-year study by Space Syntax into the relationship between housing layout and crime patterns, believed to be the largest urban crime study ever undertaken in the southern hemisphere."
From Australia's Local Government Focus, July, 2000:
"Applied to Gosnells, Space Syntax research suggests that crime was highest where pedestrian and vehicle movement was low and visibility to onlookers negligible. 'The cul de sac developments, that characterised residential development over the last 30 years, appear to be an invitation to crime in that they reduced pedestrian movement and accessibility to facilities,' [city designer] Stephen Thorne said. ... 'We will encourage mixed development where residential development is based within five minutes walking distance of retail and other facilities. We will also carry out tree planting which does not obscure visibility and institute a policy which prevents high fences obscuring views of the streets and houses. 'Designing out crime' by encouraging people to use the streets and creating a greater sense of visibility makes more sense than other measures to reduce the problem.' "
7) Gates, Barriers and Fear
Neal Kumar Katyal, in his comprehensive review, "Architecture as Crime Control" (Yale Law Journal, Volume 111, 2002), discusses the four major components of design-related crime control: natural surveillance, territoriality, building community, and strengthening targets. He reviews the many studies that confirm the surveillability of an area is a major predictor of its crime rate (p. 21). There is a tension between surveillance and territoriality: "Natural surveillance emphasizes openness and visibility; territoriality highlights the need for some closures" (p.39). However, the crude and invasive gates, barricades, fences and street closures that are so much a feature of post 9-11 landscaping (especially in our nation’s capital) are expressions of fear, not strength, and may in the long run be counterproductive. Katyal is worth quoting at length on this point:
"Studies show that those who fear crime are most likely to be withdrawn from public life. And this leads to a multiplier effect: the more people withdraw, the more crime increases; the more crime increases, the more people withdraw." (p. 78)
"Subtle architecture that gently reinforces law-abiding norms and prevents a degree of intrusion is to be preferred to explicit and awkward physical barricades that reflect the feeling that a community is under siege. Cheap wire fences do not express a belief in the power of law or norms; rather, they reflect the opposite. The same can be said for ugly iron bars on windows, which express the terror of crime as powerfully as does any sign or published crime statistic.
"This insight suggests that certain forms of architectural prevention of crime, particularly cheap barricades, will not capture all of the potential benefits and may be counterproductive. While the tendency might be to think that all such barricades fall into this category, there are ways to design subtle devices that barricade without reflecting fear. Moreover, a whole host of architectural strategies -– such as the placement of doors and windows, creation of semipublic congregation spaces, street layout alterations, park redesign, and many more -– generally avoid such criticisms. Indeed, barricades often substitute for these other measures, and greater use of these others can reduce the drive towards an architecture driven by fear. Viewed this way, gated communities are a byproduct of public disregard of architecture, not a sustainable solution to crime." (pp. 85-86)
Alain Chiaradia, a Space Syntax researcher, weighs in on the issue of gating and strangers in "Gates and the Danger of Some Strangers." He notes that much of the debate over gated communities revolves around a fear of strangers, while at the same time many writers and researchers have found benefits associated with the presence of strangers: "Specifically, Jacobs and others have stressed that it is interactions between strangers that is valuable for urban life: certainly for commerce and for the intangible buzz that is the hallmark of a great city, but very much for security and socialisation as well."
Chiaradia recognizes that gating is an important strategy in crime control. However, as he writes, "Gates should be used for remediation, as a short or medium-term solution to a problem that ultimately needs a much more comprehensive solution -– large-scale redesign that stitches these areas back into their urban context."