Making the City a Safe Space: How the CPTED Approach Builds Healthier Communities

Jul 06 2021

A stroll in the park listening to live music, riding your bicycle to work, walking your kids to school, and sitting at a coffee shop watching people pass by the window—all these scenes have one thing in common: feeling safe in your environment.

Creating these healthy communities where residents feel safe, uplifted, and secure takes collaboration and constant effort. While community members and local authorities play a direct role in the well-being of our communities, it is the responsibility of the architect to define the built environment. There are many ways to enhance safety through design in your community, but a great strategy to accomplish successful design is utilizing the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles.

In its formal definition by the International CPTED Association, CPTED is a set of strategies that aim to reduce victimization, deter offender decisions that precede criminal acts, and build a sense of community among inhabitants so they can gain territorial control of areas, reduce crime, and minimize community fear of crime.

According to MHAworks Project Architect Fernando Zabala, one of the few architects in North Carolina with the NICP CPD designation, CPTED defines parameters to better understand problems in communities and uses “natural” or “passive” design techniques to address and solve them. The end goal of this strategy is to enhance and enrich the urban experience.

CPTED is comprised of four principles: Natural Surveillance, Natural Access Control, Territorial Reinforcement, and Maintenance.

  • Natural Surveillance: Design geared towards maximizing visibility to foster positive social interactions among the users of a space.
  • Natural Access Control: Utilizing walkways, lighting, signage, and landscape to guide people and vehicles to and from their proper places.
  • Territorial Reinforcement: Clearly distinguishing private areas from public ones through physical design practices to give residents and employees a sense of ownership over their space.
  • Maintenance: Preserving the quality of an area through routine maintenance and upkeep.

The use of these principles in building communities provides cities with simple and cost-effective ways to improve safety in almost any environment. When people feel safe in public spaces such as parks, shopping centers, or city plazas, people are more likely to use them. They are also more likely to participate in positive social interaction with neighbors and other users in the space which results in a self-propelling, inclusive, and equal social engine.

Many municipalities in North Carolina have identified the positive impact of using CPTED principles in their public spaces. Major cities such as Greensboro, Durham, and Charlotte have implemented these strategic practices to ensure all community members feel safe in their environment.

“CPTED is not about the abnormal user (thieves and criminals),” says Fernando. “CPTED’s programming is an interdisciplinary approach that aims to promote inclusiveness through simple strategies. It is a framework that helps reducing the fear of crime improving the quality of life by enhancing the urban environment. It’s about creating a healthy community with everyone.”

By using the CPTED principles as a guide for design, we can move towards designing healthy communities that are naturally safe and promote positive social interaction—the way they are meant to be.