Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design: A Public Life Approach

A policy brief on design, public safety, and public life

Everyone deserves to feel safe in public space. But oftentimes the design, planning, and especially policing efforts that are meant to improve safety in cities actually deplete residents’ quality of life. Spaces designed to be defensive and uncomfortable to certain groups often become unwelcoming to everyone. Such defensive spaces, in turn, usually fail to attract people, and without people, they feel less safe to spend time in.

Why not design public spaces that encourage people to come together outside, engage in social activity, and act as stewards of the communities they share?

In this policy brief, “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design: A Public Life Approach,” Gehl Institute Fellow Larissa Begault shifts the emphasis from defensive public space design approaches that limit interaction to welcoming design approaches that open up opportunities for social activity.

The brief recommends combining Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles, a popular approach to enhance public safety through design in many communities in the US, Canada, and Australia, with the Urban Quality Criteria developed by Jan Gehl and the Gehl design practice (see: How To Study Public Life). The resultant framework addresses the comfort and enjoyment people feel in public spaces, in addition to protection from traffic, crime, and unpleasant sensory experiences.

Importantly, the second half of the report outlines a process for implementation based on strategies in A Mayor’s Guide to Public Life. It stresses the importance of inclusive community engagement and the activation of social networks, from the beginning of the design process to the operation of the space once the project is officially completed. Sensitivity to local historical and cultural heritage is also critical.

Together, the CPTED-Urban Quality Criteria framework and the strategies for implementation offer a blueprint for addressing public safety and creating public spaces that feel safe, inclusive, and welcoming to all. 

To access the brief, please head to the Bookshelf section of our website.