Social aspects

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Consideration of social aspects will help urban planners identify how their planning decisions may directly or indirectly affect societal security. One main reason for this is that security aspects obviously have an influence on how the built environment is changed and developed; conversely, the way in which the built environment is changed and developed influences the security of infrastructures, and of society as a whole, both in manifest and in latent ways.


While security aspects have only recently figured more prominently in urban planning, much of that planning has rather direct effects on citizens’ security. For example, best practices of design for security [1] acknowledge that tactical design needs to be combined with other methods of crime prevention, such as social and community-based strategies.

Identification of foundations and practical methods to integrate social and culture aspects in the VITRUV urban planning tool will facilitate the consideration of multiple threats and vulnerabilities in the context of urban planning. This will help to implement a resilience-enhancing comprehensive approach to urban security.

Social aspects are citizen-related aspects, and security in urban space is societal security. That given, citizens should always be part of security and related considerations in urban planning since citizens are the ultimate end-users. However, it is not easy to address citizens by built infrastructure in order – for example – to influence their behaviour using that infrastructure. The reason for this is that – among other things due to culture aspects – citizens ‘read’ built urban environment in different ways: One central tenet in environmental psychology is that meaning intentionally embodied in built environment is not always decoded by citizens according to that intention.

Conversely, urban structure has an impact on social processes, and this needs to be addressed in strategic urban planning as far as security considerations are concerned. Design features of urban infrastructure influence citizens’ perception of the risk that infrastructure is at, or that it is assumed to mitigate or prevent. Design features also influence the general perception of criticality of that infrastructure.

Secure environments also facilitate the meeting of social needs by help of built infrastructure. Commonly, societal needs are addressed in is goal for::urban planning (such as need for recreation area, need for public transport improvement, need for bike routes, need for social gathering places and culture resources, special needs of vulnerable groups (such as children, disabled, elderly etc.). Many of them have security/safety relevance. Examples include:

  1. Lighting of or video installation at urban spaces, bus stops, etc., that helps reducing crime rates, robberies, sexual harassment etc.
  2. According standardised constructions to avoid chemical leaching from/around industrial sites and to avoid substance harassment and environmental pollution;
  3. According physical protection of urban rivers and channels (also sewage) to avoid flooding/overflowing;
  4. Child friendly construction norms and standards for schools and preschools to avoid injuries (e.g. safety areas near streets);
  5. Additional parking houses/garages to provide for increased drivers’ needs – improvement of ventilation systems to control exhaust fumes and avoid health problems;
  6. Counter-terrorism design measures to avoid terrorist attempts;
  7. Etc.

A further social aspect to consider is that different security issues have different effects on citizens’ perception of security. Security culture research has shown that social fear of crime typically reduces personal fear of crime. [2] A conclusion relevant for urban planning is that a predominance of security issues located at social level will lead to less concerns and demands of the citizens regarding design measures at more individual levels, such as for example directed against pickpocketing or vehicle theft.

Practical addressing of social aspects and aspects of security culture in security-related urban planning can best be accomplished by appropriately involving citizens, based on a set of introduced methods of citizen participation.

Entry points for social aspects in security-related urban planning

Culture aspects

Design features of urban infrastructure influence citizens’ perception of the risk that infrastructure is at, or that it is assumed to mitigate or prevent. Design features also influence the general perception of criticality of that infrastructure. These two are important aspects of security culture. While urban sociology and socially concerned urban planning have gained much insight on environments such as pleasant calming or exciting[3] secure environments have been addressed to a far lesser extent. But there are several further reasons why it is important to consider culture aspects in urban planning:

  • First, culture determines the behaviour and perception of people and thus determines the (perceived) security.
  • Second, cultural behaviour can be directed by the surroundings, and thus by the result of urban planning.
  • Third, the framework for urban planning is also to some extent culturally determined: Different perceptions and disputes about risk and security can be linked to competing worldviews, as they are paramount in multicultural cities: Conceptions of risk, security and solutions to security problems vary according to the organisation of political and social relations.

Entry points for culture aspects in security-related urban planning

Footnotes and references

  1. E.g.,, by Greater Manchester Police.
  2. [WP/D4.4; to be further specified]:
  3. Cf. Nasar J. L.: Environmental Psychology and Urban Design in: Banerjee, T. Loukaitou-Sideris, A. (eds.): Companion to Urban Design. London/New York: Routledge, 2001, 162-174 (168).