If you walk through Baltimore City and you compare how the building environment looks with the City crime map you would notice patterns. The good news is there are good patterns to be copied, and it is up to us: architects, urban designers and neighbors to put them into motion. What can we do as designers to aid in the reduction of crime?
1. Good landscaping provides residents with the opportunity of having their own area to take care of, or to plant a small garden; and that means they will spend more time outdoors, interact with their neighbors, and have more eyes on the street. All of this will improve the community’s ‘social capital’. Social capital is the interpersonal relationships, institutions, and other social assets of a society or group that can be used to gain advantage. For example, the district of Suginami in Tokyo, was plagued with frequent burglaries in 2002. With the implementation of “Operation Flower”, a street-facing flower-planting campaign, the district saw an 80% decrease in burglaries by 2008. The more a neighborhood looks like it is cared for, the less it is burglarized. A study in Baltimore City on the relationship between residential yard management and neighborhood crime concludes crime is positively associated with litter, desiccated or uncut lawns, and negatively associated with yard trees, garden hoses/ sprinklers, lawns, and pervious area.
The Residences at Stadium Place is an affordable and senior housing project in Govans. The site retains the footprint of Baltimore’s original football stadium as a public space. Residents enjoy plenty of landscaped green space.
2. Reduce heat island effect: higher temperatures make the crime rates increase. Trees and vegetation or elements help lower temperatures in summer, including cooler concrete/ pavements, green or cooler roofs. At the same time, this would lower building heating and cooling needs. Double win.
A. Trees and vegetation lowers ground surface and air temperatures by providing cooling through evotranspiration and shading.
B. Cool roofs & pavements reflect sunlight and heat away from a building or neighborhood reducing temperatures, increasing comfort and lowering energy demand.
3. Positive stimulation: humans have a vital need for stimulation. Therefore, tons of new urban infilled spaces like parks, skate parks, or climbing walls are popping up all over the world to keep both kids and adults positively entertained. The first east coast skate park was built in our own state, Maryland, and it is open year-round (Ocean Bowl Skate Park). Protected bike-lanes might also mean more people of all ages biking, and interacting with their neighbors.
4. Mental health and wellbeing: Encounters with nature or biophilic design help alleviate mental fatigue, stress and illness. Less stressed people commit less crimes. Contact with nature helps children to develop emotional, cognitive and behavioral connections to their social and biophysical surroundings.
Giving some positive stimulation to inhabitants like gardening or community rooms with games is key to avoid the negative stimulations and to increase the serendipitous encounters between neighbors that shape the sense of community.
5. Playground or places of community interaction: the best way to start rejuvenating social values in a community is to focus on the interaction of children. The rest follows. Once the community knows one another, they also know what is and isn’t normal and they put more attention on patterns of behavior.
6. Mixed Use Buildings and Communities: Urban residents can work, shop and play within the same block to increase the relationships within the community, and to have informal surveillance all day. It is important in Baltimore City to eliminate the defensive architecture and urban design that cropped up after the 1968 riots, where mixed-use was eliminated from residential neighborhoods to prevent protesters’ access to buying food or drinks in these areas, causing these areas empty during workdays, decrease the community’s social capital.
Thankfully the Mayor’s office recognizes the detriment of those laws passed 60 years ago. Life is slowly returning to neighborhoods like Barclay/Greentmount/Old Goucher North Barclay Green Phase 3 which is an affordable housing project that is helping revitalize the neighborhood. The project recently won a Wavemaker award for standing out in criteria like: completeness, sense of place and quality, sustainability, visionary and emulation and responding to the unique needs of the area. All three buildings have commercial space on the ground level. Fearless Dance Empire just moved into Building One, and an art gallery of local artists and makers occupies Building Two.
North Barclay Green buildings let people participate in and observe activities going on inside and outside of the building with a big percentage of opening to façade ratio and placing all the community areas as well as the new public uses in the ground floor.
7. Lighting: Increased visibility of the offenders encourages residents and other people to spend more time outdoors and therefore increases the informal surveillance of the area. Increased visual connections between the inside and the outside of a building makes everyone feel safer.
Café Fili is an example of the inside-outside relationship that can improve the area’s sense of community and informal surveillance by being open for different purposes at different hours of the day. The space is a café by day, and a wine bar at night.
8. Defensible space and movement control: defined, cared for spaces also show attentiveness to the area and reduce crime; while having clear and well-defined routes means people can easily and safely enter and leave. The sense of ownership over the environment makes the residents become more involved in staying vigilant against crime.
Another example of a project that starts including some of these intentions within their plans is newly opened Sojourner Place at Argile. A small group of units gives housings and a sense of community to a small group of previously homeless people. At the same time, it includes green elements that will act as a filter between public and private space, and in turn will help reduce the area’s crime rate.
In conclusion, the more mixed, green and community oriented a neighborhood is, the better it is for both the environment and the crime rates. Being sustainable and taking care of interest in the community side of our buildings and developments benefits all involved.