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Friday, April 25, 2008

Is Daybreak Crimogenic?

A few days ago I read about a supposed stranger that approached a young girl in Daybreak and threatened her with a knife. The apparent intention of the stranger was to get her to drink something. This story was later proven false as the girl was lying, but it peaked my interest about crime in Daybreak. I wrote an article earlier about crime in Daybreak that compared statistics with my old neighborhood, but this article only touched base with a debate that has been raging for years about new urbanism and crime.

A theory of community design called Defensible Space seems to be the clashing point of this debate. This theory was thrust into the mainstream in 1972 by Oscar Newman with his book, "Defensible Space: - Crime Prevention through Urban Design." The four main principles of this theory are:

  • Territoriality - The differentiation between public and private space
    • Owners, or those who take ownership of a given space, have a vested interest and are more likely to challenge intruders or report them to the police.
    • The sense of owned space creates an environment where "strangers" or "intruders" stand out and are more easily identified.
  • Natural surveillance - the link between an area's physical characteristics and the residents' ability to see what is happening
  • Image - the capacity of the physical design to impart a sense of security also known as the broken window effect. The community must look well-maintained with no signs of criminal mischief.
  • Milieu and Access - Features that may affect security, such as proximity to a police substation or busy commercial area

In the related literature you can find many instances where authors suppose that the principles of Defensible Space are at total odds with New Urban Design. The table below illustrates this proposition:

In fact, supporters of this line of thinking believe new urbanism to be crimogenic. However, new urbanist designs have taken the concepts of defensive space to heart in their designs. Most literature that contrasts this point does not understand new urbanism or does not understand defensible space concepts. Possibly both. In reality, new urbanism creates harmonious communities that combine private spaces with active, well-observed, well-connected streets and other public spaces. Streets, squares and plazas are compact and lined with buildings whose many doors and windows help occupants to provide ongoing natural surveillance.

Daybreak has only a few problems from a defensible space standpoint. The walking tunnel that goes under the main road to Daybreak could be a problem. While homes do face this tunnel there are many spots that are obscured from public view. I would not recommend kids hanging around this tunnel. Another problem area is the alleyways that are used as access routes to vehicle storage. For the most part the second story buildings that are so prevalent in Daybreak neighborhoods help in this matter. The windows on the second floor can usually see over fences into the alley. The garage apartments also help in this area. The biggest worry, from a defensible space standpoint, is actually in Eastlake where new construction provides ample areas for theft and vandalism.

Overall, about 95% of the Daybreak development adheres to the concepts of defensible space. Daybreak residents are territorial in that we care about the community and what happens in it. There are clear lines between public and private space. Being able to distinguish a stranger at Oquirrh Lake may be a challenge since it is public space, but this same problem is applicable to any public space: churches, schools, playgrounds. These features can be found in just about any neighborhood in Utah.

Natural surveillance is the category in which Daybreak truly excels along with any new urbanist community. Our houses are close to the street and we have many eyes on the street. Image, well does Daybreak look unsafe? Does it seem like a place where criminal activity can thrive? That idea is laughable. As far as access, yes Daybreak is a mixed use development with a grid-like system of roads, but even Oscar Newman himself did not think that this was a particularly bad thing, especially where cars are made to go so slow. Finally, Daybreak does have a police substation in the community center. This proximity as part of the design speaks well for the planners of Daybreak.

Unfortunately, you cannot "design" out crime from a society. Design can only take you so far. While new urbanism seeks for people to know each other and be more active, it cannot prevent disagreements between people in a community. People are people no matter what neighborhood you are in and they will have disagreements. That is why Daybreak has experienced some crime as of late. For details you can look at the map on This website is extremely handy to assess crime in any neighborhood. My prediction? Daybreak will remain a low-crime neighborhood because of new urbanism not despite it.

1 comment:

gaddis said...

Bravo!! I stumbled across your blog the other night and would love to applaud your exceptionally clear, concise and articulate entries. Refreshing after reading the forums on the homeowner's forums. I'm afraid most of my neighbors don't have a clue what new urbanism is truly all about, they have been steeped in suburbia for so long.