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This is a page providing background in a specific field of expertise

{Graeme - work in progress}

Security is the degree or act of protection of persons or objects against risk stemming from the threat type human intent.

Security in the urban environment

Security concerns harm done by persons by wilful action. As these actions are generally prohibited by law, these actions constitute crimes. Security threats can therefore be classified by crime type. The gravity of the crimes can range from fairly minor, such as pickpocketing, to very serious, such as terrorism. An exhaustive listing of all crime types distinguished in the various countries of Europe would not be useful, as this would encompass local regulations and crimes not relevant in an urban context. For this purpose, a categorisation of criminal acts, committed by actors executing various modus operandi, was developed.

Relevance of security for the urban planner

As the built environment can influence social behaviour, including criminal behaviour, the urban design can influence the (absolute and perceived) level of safety and security of the future residents. Three elements that are conductive for crimes to take place[1] are:

  • a motivated offender
  • a suitable goal or victim and
  • suitable opportunity (such as an absence of witnesses).

The urban environment and consequently, urban planning, can influence the likelihood of each of these elements being present. For example, the presence of offenders and potential victims (and particularly the meeting of the two) can be potentially influenced by a careful design of traffic flows and opportunities can be minimized by optimizing surveilability and minimizing deserted areas.

Of course, to effectively address crime by urban design, one needs to know the effect urban design can have on crime and underlying causes and what urban design instruments can be used to influence these effects. Urban Securipedia aims to support the urban planner in exactly this; it provides both instruments that can be incorporated in the urban planning and design process and insight in the effects the urban environment will have (both with or without implementation of these instruments) on crime. The effects of these instruments on criminals are predictable by sake of the actions of criminals being -to a large degree- rational and predictable:

  • Offenders are very rational about maximising their opportunities. They weigh up the amount of effort they would need to make to commit a criminal act compared with the profits they would make from the crime. The immediate situation is the sum of the information from the environment which a motivated offender collects in order to make his/her decision before committing a crime[1].
  • Crime, and particularly violent crime, is the consequence of social conflicts that can escalate where there are corresponding external situational conditions: for example, long waiting time in conditions such as heat, noise, provocations, crowds in small spaces, etc., lead in the end to stress situations which then cause conflicts[2].

Security as a public good

From the political and public administration point of view, security is often conceived of as a public good. This means in particular that

  1. it rests on commonly acquired values. Those values can be material (capital, infrastructure, utilities, etc.) or immaterial (security culture, sense of community, etc.)
  2. it is commonly produced. This includes public-private partnerships as well as citizen participation and ownership (see civic culture);
  3. nobody should be a priori exempt from its consumption.

It is therefore important to reconcile the idea of security with that of community.[3] This can be done, for example, by including the concept of security culture into concepts for urban planning.

Critics have reprimanded any "clubbing of private security", which in their view contributes to the deconstruction of security as a public good, to the benefit of a short-sighted approach of mere physical risk reduction.[4] This includes scepticism of approaches to urban planning such as the "designing out" approach, as well as any production of security by use of exclusionary practices.[5]

Footnotes and references

  1. 1.0 1.1 Plus consortium, Final report, Landeskriminalamt Niedersachsen, Zentralstelle Prävention, June 2012
  2. Wortley, Richard; Situational Precipitators of Crime, In: Wortley Richard / Mazerolle Lorraine (Hrsg.), Environmental Criminology and Crime Analysis. Willan. Collumpton and Portland, 2008.
  3. I. Loader/N. Walker: Civilizing Security. Cambridge et al.: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
  4. T. Hope: Crime victimisation and inequality in risk society. In: R. Matthews/J. Pitts: Crime, Disorder and Community Safety. A New Agenda? London/New York: Routledge, 2001, p. 216.
  5. G. Hughes: The Politics of Crime and Community. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007.