Vandalism in residential facilities reduces the sense of security and frequently is a harbinger of criminal acts. Preventive measures taken in planning can fend off such a development and the decay of housing facilities. ÖNORM EN 14383 describes the aspects to be considered.
"If graffiti, scattered litter or broken windows are not quickly removed or repaired, criminal acts will often follow in their wake," states Chief Inspector August Baumühlner of the Vienna Provincial Police Directorate. As he heads the department in charge of crime prevention, he is naturally interested in avoiding all that. He always gives top priority to protecting people – also by means of technical tools. Sociologists, however, are convinced that such "repressive" surveillance and control measures – for example, pervasive CCTV surveillance or massive presence of security personnel or police officers – may reduce the subjective perception of security and exacerbate existing problems. "The way in which people behave in a concrete case and whether they feel safe is closely related to the area in which they live. Therefore, it makes sense to focus on the issue of how to raise the sense of security and social viability in housing estates and public space," believes criminologist Baumühlner.
Crime prevention through urban planning and design
Poorly lit footpaths, concealed niches or bushes that can provide hiding places are considered to be "crime opportunity structures" in criminology. To prevent their development, design measures must be taken – specifically with regard to architecture, urban planning and open space. For the urban sociologist and criminologist Dr. Günter Stummvoll of the Austrian Centre for Urban Criminology, these efforts serve crime prevention and promote security. "Architectural design helps promote desirable behaviour and permits informal social control. Thus, good lighting, open footways and populated public areas can change and prevent opportunities for crime".
Standards already in place
There are numerous possibilities for taking preventive action. The state of the art of this discipline is laid down in the series of standards "Prevention of crime – Urban planning and building design". While the first part, ÖNORM EN 14383-1, contains definitions for key terms, the second part, ÖNORM CEN/TR 14383-2, is a technical report on fundamental issues related to urban planning. It explains strategies and measures that can prevent or reduce crime in a specific area. Moreover, the document describes an effective and efficient procedure in which actors can apply the strategies and measures to prevent and mitigate the crime issues identified. Further parts on dwellings (part 3) as well as shops and offices (part 4) are currently being prepared.
Before planning activities start, three fundamental questions – where, what and who – have to be answered. For instance, you have to clarify whether the project's location is in the centre or at the periphery of a city. Is it about a new development or existing structures and has the area a high or low density? "What" addresses the security problems that may arise there – i.e. whether you "only" have to address a perceived fear of crime, irritations in everyday life and social conflicts or real crime. Finally, you have to identify the groups of people involved. In this context, the question is not just whether the persons concerned are old or young or whether different social classes come into contact with each other. It is also important to know the institutions that will deal with problems that arise. If a janitor or property manager deals with a complaint or broken window, this "security-critical offense" is assessed in a way differing from the one if the police are called immediately. Maintenance and prompt repairs of vandalism damage make a significant contribution to a secure atmosphere in a city. Moreover, property managers and janitors help deescalate social conflicts.
"If design takes account of the residents' need for security, it creates identity and positively influences social cohesion in housing estates and public space. At the same time, those 'soft' spatial psychology measures strengthen common responsibility and, as a result, social attention to deviant behaviour. 'Territoriality' is the term describing this collective appropriation," explains Günter Stummvoll. Successful urban planning and appropriate design instil neighbourhood pride and, due to an improved sense of security, prevent crime. And, they sustainably protect the value of commercial and residential properties.