We know that, in addition to investing in our law enforcement capacity and community programs to that help create positive life outcomes, one of the keys to preventing crime is to identify and improve the spaces and places in our city where we would like to experience a greater sense of safety. The way the spaces in our community look and feel can impact our perceptions of how safe these spaces are as well as the types of activities that take place there. Small details such as how we arrange lighting or layout landscaping details can make a big difference in our sense of safety as well as the types of activities that take place in community spaces.
These types of improvements are part of a best practice in public safety called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design or CPTED for short. This approach offers a wide range of ideas and solutions for how we can we can increase the number of eyes on a public space, create natural ways to safely access outdoor spaces and buildings, create natural separation between public and private spaces, and public spaces more welcoming and user friendly. Applying these principles, we can prevent crime but making it more difficult or less inviting for bad activity to occur in on our streets, in our parks, and near our public facilities.
1. Natural surveillance – This is principle is built on the concept that spaces that are highly visible to people passing by and passing through, and have fewer hiding spaces, are more likely to encourage positive social interactions and discourage negative ones. This is often described as helping to put “eyes on the street”, where we can all observe what’s taking place in different parts of our community. Examples of this design principle at work include entrances or access points to buildings and public spaces that are free from barriers such as walls or tall hedges and trees that block the view from the street or surrounding houses or businesses. We all feel safer, and can help observe unsafe activity, when we can see who’s coming and going and what’s going on. Another important element is good lighting, with low amounts of glare, that creates high visibility in parks, alleys, sidewalks, and near building entrances.
2. Natural access – This principle focuses on facilitating the flow of vehicles and people into and out of a building, public space, or neighborhood area so everyone can feel like they can move about freely as well as see what’s going on around them as we pass through. Our communities are safer when we all feel like we can safely walk to our neighborhood park, to our neighbor’s place, or to the store up the street. Landscape elements that help promote this principle include ensuring sidewalks, street crossings, parking areas, and alleys are well lit and accessible to all users regardless of ability. Also, it helps to encourage a wide variety of users such as pedestrians on foot, people using bicycles, and people driving cars. Efforts to calm traffic by encouraging slower speeds in residential areas, near parks, or business districts also helps to increase eyes on the street by encouraging drivers to observe their surroundings as well as making it easier for people walking or riding bicycles to pass through.
3. Territorial reinforcement – This principle is about establishing a clear sense of boundaries between public spaces where people can safely pass through and more private spaces where people live, work, or conduct business. These boundaries help to channel foot traffic into more visible areas as well as make it easier to observe when activities that negatively impact safety may be taking place. Design elements such as greenery, bollards, signage, fences, changes in exterior surfaces or building materials, or some combination, can play a role in communicating these boundaries.
4. Physical Maintenance and Activity Support – Spaces that are not only well designed but are well taken care of convey a sense of community pride. More importantly, spaces that are colorful, bright, and attractive are more pleasant to gather or pass through. Community designed spaces also help to express our shared sense of identity within a neighborhood, which helps improve our sense of connection to one another. We can advance this principle by ensuring that deferred maintenance in public spaces or public buildings such as deteriorating sidewalks or paths, broken fencing or play equipment, worn out light fixtures, or worn-down doors and windows are repaired or replaced. We can also identify opportunities to invite group activity into spaces such as new play spaces or public art that reflects our community.
There are numerous other examples of investments in public facilities and infrastructure that can help promote CPTED principles. A special note that, for the purposes of the city’s capital improvement budget, we have focused our examples on facilities that are maintained by the City of Saint Paul which would be eligible for special type of financing that the City uses to build and maintain these facilities. There are examples of CPTED improvements that focus on private property such as houses, apartment buildings, and private businesses. We encourage Saint Paul residents and business owners to see the City of Saint Paul Neighborhood STAR program and other potential funding sources for assistance in financing investments on private property.