How can we help people to feel safer in the city?

Monday, 24 August 2015

Greater business, community activity, connectivity and well-maintained spaces – not just increased lighting or security cameras – are some of the keys to helping people feel safer in a city environment, according to the findings of new research from the University of Adelaide.

In a pilot study of Adelaide’s East End precinct, University researchers have conducted an audit of the urban environment, as well as surveys and interviews of residents, business owners and visitors to the area.

The research team – made up of staff from the School of Architecture and Built Environment, School of Social Sciences and Adelaide Law School – hopes to better understand the role of environmental design in crime prevention, and how a community can feel safe.

“The concept of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design has been around since the 1970s, but to our knowledge, the relationships between this concept and people’s feeling of safety in an urban environment has never been tested in the City of Adelaide,” says study coordinator Associate Professor Veronica Soebarto, from the University’s School of Architecture and Built Environment.

“By doing this study, we hope to provide some input to planners, urban designers and councils, raise awareness in the community of these issues, and help people to better understand how their surroundings affect them.”

A wide range of factors was considered in the East End, including: types of buildings, streets and laneways, demographics, pedestrian traffic, maintenance, security measures, lighting, business and social activity, and many other aspects, even the colour of exterior walls.

“The majority of people we spoke with felt that the East End was generally a safe place to live and work, with a lively culture surrounding it. However, we identified a number of issues that contribute to people feeling unsafe in the area – and some good examples of how potentially unsafe areas have been transformed for the better,” Associate Professor Soebarto says.

“The main issue is business and social activity – the more of it there is, the more people tend to feel safe. So while an area might have very good lighting at night, if there is no social or business activity around that area, people will report feeling unsafe.

“A positive example is the establishment of a popular eatery at the end of a dead-end street. Where previously there was no activity, making people feel unsafe in the area, the new business can create ‘liveability’ and vibrancy in that space. This is very important,” she says.

Identified risks include: laneways and narrow streets that are poorly maintained or have people’s view of the end of the street blocked by rubbish, parked cars or building structures; and businesses that do not have any people working on the ground floor.

“If businesses are facing the street but they do not have people working at the ground level, effectively they do not have ‘eyes on the street’. Having eyes on the street is a key to making people feel safer as well as the actual safety of an area, such as preventing vandalism or theft,” Associate Professor Soebarto says.

She says the findings might have further implications for the future planning of the city. “Our pilot study could be adapted to a wider-scale study that takes into account the entire city, as well as other urban locations in Australia or overseas,” she says.

The research team received guidance from the Adelaide City Council for this project.


Contact Details

Professor Veronica Soebarto
School of Architecture and Built Environment
Business: 8313 5695
Mobile: 0405 148 466

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762