Cities need thoughtful urban design not because it’s pretty, but because it makes people feel as comfortable in public as they are in their private homes.
Every day, we spend our time in both public and private places. Generally our private space is our homes, on which we spend a lot of money to call our own. Our public lives are spent on streets, parks, playgrounds and shops, where we connect with other people and with nature. We pay a lot in taxes to ensure those public spaces improve our daily lives. Having both public and private places gives us the luxury of going out on the town, then going home, undressing and going to bed.
But while 2014 FBI data released this week showed San Diego was once again the safest big city in the country, it doesn’t always feel that way. That’s because subpar urban design can make safe streets feel isolating, uncomfortable or dangerous.
In 1972, urban designer Oscar Newman’s “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design” argued that good design communicates a distinction between public and private spaces and typical people recognize those distinctions as a sense of where they belong.
The physical design of private elements like doorways, walkways, front yards, windows, landscaping and signage enables people to develop that sense of what’s theirs.
People experience public sidewalks, streets and parks as an extension of private homes. A sense of enclosure makes outdoors feel like a safe indoor space. Cities achieve a sense of enclosure when buildings face the street and trees line the sidewalk to form an outdoor room. Seeing people in the seam between private buildings and public streets creates the vibrant dynamic that Realtors call “curb appeal.”
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All of the author's preferred examples emphasize "broken" areas. I dislike his preference, because it provides for far too many blind spots for potential predators. BTW, his Spectrum Center example is exceptionally stupid; the sidewalks are so narrow you can't even move down them in a wheelchair, and somebody will have to step into the street on passing another pedestrian. And, if the camera perspective had moved just ten feet left, all you would have seen is an example of "bad" garage access. Sorry Mr. Blackson, but pedestrian security is best when the environment is NOT "vibrant and dynamic."
@Ed Price I agree with your first point, because street lamps create pockets of darkness where potential predators can hide. And you're also right about the narrow sidewalks in Spectrum. Maybe it would have been better to leave out the sidewalks entirely and make the driveways shared space for all modes of travel including walking.
Also, are you suggesting a shared walking/driving lane? That sounds great if the motorists are responsible, but who will drive along at the walking speed of 3mph?
@Robet Lawson Anyone following a person, hopefully.
"That’s why good design and planning – not increased security – creates a feeling of safety."
That is a highly debatable statement. I feel safe because of my experiences of not getting mugged or having my car broken into. Whether that is due to our police force or some other factor I don't know. I seriously doubt that street design has anything to do with whether there is crime. The only thing that matters to me is actual safety. A false sense of safety doesn't help me one iota. Maybe it is the police. Maybe it is the people who live here. Maybe it is a combination of both. If I have to pay taxes for important government services, paying for security is my #1 priority. When public safety has the proper funding, then we can talk about making people feel good about their surroundings. Your pictures of the condo development is hilarious. If I'm walking around in a high end gated community, I feel safer because of the security. I could care less what directions the porches or garages face. Again, I want my housing development HOA prioritizing security patrols, and gates first.
For a fee, I'm available to patrol your HOA.
But San Diego ISN'T safe. You won't be murdered, sure, but when your family is mourning your death does it matter that you were run down in a crosswalk by an inattentive motorist instead of shot in a dispute? A dense city with a few more murders but a hell of a lot fewer cars would actually be safer.
@Robet Lawson Sure it is. Murders do occur. They just aren't happening at the highest rate. A crime can happen to anyone. Every city has crime. Isolated incidents do occur. By the way, how about the story about the inattentive bicyclist who ran a red light? Accidents aren't necessarily crimes. One example of any particular crime doesn't prove anything. The overall crime stats have far more meaning then a story about one isolated incident.
@Robet Lawson It's unfortunate when families move to the suburbs to be safe, when in fact the suburbs are more dangerous than inner cities. Here's proof: http://www.virginia.edu/topnews/releases2002/lucy-april-30-2002.html
@shawn fox @Robet Lawson I'm not arguing that San Diego is high-crime, it isn't. I'm saying it isn't safe because it's built in a manner which is dangerous for people walking, people on bikes, people in cars, and everyone else. More people are killed on the roads than are murdered.
If a city had zero crime but ten people a day were dying due to meteorite impacts, that would not be called a "safe" city.
good examples @Howard Blackson
also, everyone is invited to attend Creating Great Cities - An Evening with Gil Penalosa, happening next week... register here: http://sdapa.org/go/event/archtoberfest-save-the-date-an-evening-with-gil-penalosa/
If you want buildings to face the street, make property taxes proportional to street frontage. Then developers will naturally try to be a little smarter about minimizing their street frontage and putting their blank facades on the sides that nobody sees.
@Derek Hofmann That... or have explicit development standards that require such in areas policies directing new development to build mixed-use, walkable places. Most SmartCodes, such as in Miami, Denver, Montgomery, Austin, Ventura, and Pasadena.
Agree with mostly everything except for one small thing. Good design and planning – AND increased security – creates a feeling of safety. We shouldn't overlook one in favor of the other.
I would also like to add two more wishes. More street lights. Many of SD's streets can benefit from improved visibility at night for both comfort and security reasons. Wider side walks. Most side walks are too narrow to walk side-by-side with your companion comfortably. When passing another pedestrian, it's almost certain someone has to step off the curb or walk over grass. I think these two items will significantly enhance our sense of comfort, security, and walkability out on the streets. And they are both mostly within the city's control unlike private buildings.