Investigating Defensible Space and the Criminogenic Capacity of Characteristic British Housing Designs

  • Paul Michael Cozens

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis investigates the criminogenic capacity of characteristic residential housing designs found in the British city. This exploratory study collected and analysed both qualitative and quantitative data concerning the perceptions of major stakeholders in society (planning professionals, police officers, convicted burglars and young adults) regarding these design typologies. This design-specific approach highlights the crucial significance of 'image' and subjective perceptions in the 'design-affects-crime' debate thereby representing an innovative and original contribution. Newman's theory of 'Defensible Space' (1973) is convincingly supported, in that single family dwelling units such as detached, semi-detached and terraced housing, were perceived by all groups to be less prone to criminality. Low-rise and high-rise flats, however, were viewed in more negative terms, as highly criminogenic and fear inducing.

    To probe the complex relationship between the social and physical dimensions of urban residential space, various designs of contrasting and polarised levels of upkeep were selected for investigation. Significantly, designs with visible 'signs of decay' that were poorly-maintained were consistently perceived to be both more criminogenic and fear inducing. Newman's third 'defensible space' element of 'image and milieu' is underpinned, in addition to the 'Broken Windows' theory of Wilson and Kelling (1982). It is established that design, per se, is not the definitive explanatory factor for criminality. Rather, it is the crucial socio-economic and demographic associations attached to these designs that influences perceptions of crime / deviancy, 'defensible space' and the fear of crime. The 'image' of the design can significantly affect levels of perceived defensibility. It is demonstrated that probing the subjective and perceptual elements to crime and fear of crime provides a useful analysis to pursue alongside the traditional approaches of utilising recorded crime statistics and published socio-economic and demographic data to guide policy responses and crime prevention through environmental design initiatives. Understanding the subjective reality of the fear of crime and how 'defensible space' is perceived can assist in the campaign to improve urban design and inform the Home Office's 'Secured By Design' initiative. This work underpins the journey towards understanding 'safer cities' and contributes to the design-affects-crime debate generally.
    Date of AwardDec 2000
    Original languageEnglish


    • City planning
    • Housing

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