Defensible Space, Community Safety, the British City and the 'Active Citizen': Penetrating the Criminal Mind

David Hillier, Gwyn Prescott, Paul Cozens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Abstract This paper is concerned with how both housing design and management and 'active citizenship' are perceived to influence crime and 'defensible space'. It explores the way in which criminals decode the 'active citizen', common housing designs and levels of safety within the British city. Urban designers, planners, the police and city centre management teams are already employing concepts associated with Newman's theory of 'defensible space' in seeking to produce safer urban environments. Despite such initiatives, however, some parts of the city are not defended by the residents. The social elements of 'undefended' and 'offensible' space are discussed in relation to the concept of 'active citizenship'. It is suggested that the call for a change in the social behaviour of individuals in the urban place, inherent within the notion of 'active citizenship', is not always safely achievable and may in some instances jeopardise personal and community safety. The paper argues that the perceptual dimension to 'defensible space' remains largely under-investigated, particularly in the British context, and that 'image' is a significant factor in the 'design-affects-crime' debate. Findings are presented which suggest that well-maintained housing designs are associated to a greater degree with 'active citizenship' than are their poorly maintained counterparts. Policy recommendations and potential areas for further research are reviewed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7 - 21
Number of pages14
JournalCrime Prevention and Community Safety
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2002


  • perceptions
  • defensible space
  • crime
  • property management
  • community safety
  • active citizenship
  • offensible space
  • undefended space
  • image


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