Safety by design

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Safety by design


Kim Jung-tae, the former chairman of Kookmin Bank, caused something of a sensation when he moved to Goyang, Gyeonggi, after he retired in 2004. The idea of Kim, an executive who had once run Korea’s largest bank, living and working on a farm was shocking. He made headlines again when he moved back to the city, saying that he was too worried about his own safety to live in such a rural area.

Kim is not alone in questioning the security of his home and the environment in which he lives.

Like Kim, many people make changes to their surroundings to protect themselves, their families or their belongings from theft or harm. This may involve simple things like leaving the light on when you leave the house, making sure the area around your home is free of obstructions so you can spot anything out of the ordinary or not displaying valuables in a parked car. It can also involve something more complex like buying a security system.

These ideas are not new, but as crime rates rise, they are catching on with city planners in a more formal sense through application of the theory known as crime prevention through environmental design, or CPTED. The idea behind CPTED is that architecture, design and urban development can contribute to reducing the crime rate. Because no matter where you live, there are obstructions such as dim lighting or misplaced landscaping that create blind spots for pedestrians and residents, preventing them from seeing their surroundings clearly.


CCTV cameras allow observation of areas where natural surveillance is impossible. Pictured: CCTV Control Center in Gangnam District, southern Seoul. [JoongAng Ilbo]

There is also the problem of public versus private areas - and there is often little distinction between them. Urban neighborhoods consist not only of residential areas with various types of housing but also motels and bars, all of which make it difficult to spot anything out of the ordinary, including potential criminals.

Although the idea of CPTED is relatively new to Korea, it is beginning to catch on here, which could ultimately change the landscape of architecture and urban development in the country and, hopefully, the way people live around one another.

Broken windows

A causal relationship between crime and the environment can be seen in an experiment conducted in 1969 by Philip Zimbardo, an American psychologist and professor emeritus at Stanford University.

Zimbardo wanted to know what would happen if he left a car alone in a high security area for a week. After a week, nothing had changed.

He broke one of the car windows and left it again. After just 10 minutes, someone broke into the car and took both the battery and the tires.

In another experiment, Zimbardo broke the window in an empty apartment and left it. As time went by, other windows were broken and the outside of the building was covered with graffiti.

The idea that a minor disturbance or imbalance like this influences behavior in a negative way can be attributed to the “broken window” theory.

The phenomenon is the same as when people throw garbage into an area already littered with trash or how a hole in a fence that one or two people can fit through gets larger as more and more people try to do the same.

The genesis for CPTED, one element of which emphasizes the importance of keeping an environment well-maintained as a strategy for preventing crime, started with the broken window theory.

Criminologists James Wilson and George Kelling took the theory even further, suggesting in 1984 that the graffiti on New York City subway trains should be erased to prevent serious crimes.

David L. Gunn, the president of the Metropolitan Transit Authority in New York City at the time, accepted and had the graffiti on 6,000 train cars erased.

Two years later, the crime rate in the New York City subway system began to decline. By 1994, it was down to half.

Keeping Korea safe

The Korean government first announced CPTED guidelines for architecture in the 1990s in a move to lower the crime rate. However, the guidelines were too difficult to apply at the time and the idea was put on hold.

In March 2005, the National Police Agency took up the cause anew. It formed a task force with urban planners, architects and criminologists and launched a plan to test the concept in Bucheon, Gyeonggi. Application of the guidelines was kept to a minimum and only closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, streetlights and window alarms were installed.

“When buildings and cities were built in Korea, we didn’t have a scientific crime prevention system,” said Jeong Jae-hee, a researcher at Gyeongnam Development Institute. “The government has been installing CCTV cameras, however belatedly, but the price is a big problem because each one costs 10 million won [$7,950].”

Things have changed and now CPTED features are regularly used in urban design and city planning.

“The government began incorporating the concept into its urban planning efforts. Pangyo and Gwanggyo new towns are good examples of this,” said Park Hyeon-ho, a professor of architecture at Yongin University.

Among regional governments, the city of Seoul is at the forefront of the movement to integrate CPTED into its urban development plans. It created a 150-page CPTED manual in March and the guidelines have been applied to 240 urban development sites, including new towns.

The manual states that buildings need to be arranged in a way that allows for maximum visibility so people can easily see anything out of the ordinary; locked gates are to be installed to deter criminals; fences, signs and landscaping are to be used to provide a clear distinction between public and private areas; and objects that could attract criminals should be eliminated.

The Korean Agency for Technology and Standards is also trying to standardize crime prevention efforts through the publication of an urban planning design manual, a project being carried out in collaboration with the city of Seoul, the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs and the Multifunctional Administrative City Construction Agency.

One of the problems with CPTED has to do with right to privacy concerns. The building of low fences is encouraged, but getting homeowners to give up their right to build high fences will be difficult. CCTV installation is also recommended with CPTED, but legal concerns about infringement of privacy are often a deterrent to owners who would have them installed.

“There needs to be harmony between crime prevention and privacy protection,” said Lee Kyung-hoon, professor of architecture at Korea University.

CPTED was adopted in Britain and the U.S. state of Florida 10 years ago. Since then, the crime rate in both places has declined. Residential areas that incorporated CPTED features in West Yorkshire, Britain, had home break-in rates that were 50 percent lower than those of other regions without CPTED features. Car theft rates were lower by 40 percent.

To encourage more people and businesses to use CPTED, the Crime Prevention Institute in Britain, established in 1999, awards “Secured by Design” certificates to buildings that have incorporated CPTED. The Netherlands has a similar program.

In Korea, the test area in Bucheon saw its breaking and entering rate drop by 38 percent and robbery by 57 percent.

As of yet, there has been no research in Korea into the relationship between housing prices and CPTED. However, Korean scholars expect that to change as the correlation between the two gains recognition here.

“Landscaping and lights are part of urban planning and it doesn’t add cost much to incorporate CPTED concepts,” said Park Hyeon-ho, a Yongin University architecture professor. “Even if the additional financial burden is significant, it shouldn’t be a problem because the reduction in the crime rate will create a corresponding reduction in the socioeconomic costs, along with an increase in property values.”

By Huh Kwi-shik []

Top image CPTED in practice

1.Gas pipes are built inside buildings to prevent thieves from climbing up them. Exposed pipes can be enclosed in spine covers.

2.People in street cafes or on balconies can watch pedestrians.

3.Large colorful letters can clearly indicate different territories.

4.Crimes often occur in places hidden from passersby. Walls in parking lots are eliminated to prevent crimes.

5. A neighborhood watch sign in Virginia in the United States encourages residents to watch out for strangers.

6.Clearly marking territories can deter potential criminals.

7.High fences can protect privacy but criminals can also abuse them. Semitransparent walls can protect privacy and pedestrians can see through the fences at the same time.

8.Lights are installed close together.

9.Playgrounds are observable from different directions.

10.Elevators are made with transparent glass to allow constant vigilance.

Source: Korea University, Seoul city government

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