October 4, 2010

Urban Planning and Safety

First, Straight Outta the Suburbs. In my digi-travels, I've read many an urban planning blog, but ones focusing on the less-sexy hinterlands are harder to come by. Quality stuff.

SOtS posted an interesting nugget from the LAPD's Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design pamphlet: the increased "natural surveillance" and eyes-on-the-street that mixed-use developments generate are in the interest of public safety. SOtS post here, LAPD pamphlet here. (pdf)

I've written here and here about why the need for better suburbs is not merely a matter of taste, and this pamphlet add another dimension: safety. Even though the LAPD pdf could use a little graphic design assistance, it's got some pointed pointers:

  • Provide clear border definition of controlled space (e.g., fences, hedges, paving patterns and low walls). Avoid unassigned space. As much as possible, all space should become the clear responsibility of someone.
By way of example, most mid-century housing projects fail this test, though on a scale vastly more humongous than anything the LAPD pamphlet had in mind. Their aesthetically-driven embrace of unassigned space was a significant part of their failure, and though such projects are unlikely to be repeated (at least on that scale), it's worth reminding ourselves of the essential lessons they provide about the dialog between safety, design, and urban connectivity.
  • Place activities in locations to overcome vulnerability of these activities with natural surveillance and access control of the safe area. For instance, common toilet facilities and laundry rooms should not be located in a remote corner of the site or at the end of a long nameless hallway. Locate these facilities (unsafe) adjacent to the entry or location where there is normally high foot traffic (safe).
This is perhaps more of an architectural detail, one I hadn't considered. Pomona alums, I'm thinking of the Oldenborg laundry rooms right now. Those gave me the creepers in a way that Mudd-Blaisdel's never did.

Though these warnings are useful for planners of suburban spaces (all spaces, really), I think their most urgent applications are found where someone tried to insert suburban/garden city style planning (lots of ambiguous space) into high density, high poverty urban settings. Worst mix.

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