Environmental Design

The physical design of your neighborhood, it’s layout, lighting, building and maintenance, can affect the levels of crime and fear in your neighborhood.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (“CPTED”) is the design, maintenance, and use of the built environment in order to enhance quality of life and to reduce both the incidence and fear of crime. CPTED involves the balanced application of these three principles:

Natural Surveillance

CPTED does not promote the “fortressing” of properties, quite the contrary. The ability to see what is going on in and around a property should be your first priority. Perpetrators of crime are attracted to areas and residences with low visibility. This can be counteracted in the following ways:


Street lights should be well spaced and in working order, alleys and parking areas should also be lit. Lighting should also reflect the intended hours of operation, i.e. lighting of playfields or structures in local parks may actually encourage after hour criminal activities. Motion-sensing lights perform the double duty of providing light when needed and letting trespasser know that “they have been seen.”


Generally uniformly shaped sites are safer than irregularly shaped sites because there are less hiding places. Plants should follow the 3-8 rule of thumb; hedges no higher than 3 feet, and tree canopies starting no lower than eight feet. This should is especially important around entryways and windows.


Fences should allow people to see in. Even if the fences are built for privacy, they should be of a design that is not too tall and has some visibility.


Windows that look out on streets and alleys are good natural surveillance, especially bay windows. These should not be blocked. Retirees, stay at home parents, and people working from home offices can provide good surveillance for the neighborhood during the day. Natural surveillance has been designed into these townhouses by creating “eyes” on the front of the building with windows, porches, and balconies.

Natural Access Control

Access Control refers to homes, businesses, parks and other public areas having distinct and legitimate points for entry and exits. However, this should also be balanced to avoid “user entrapment,” or not allowing for easy escape or police response to an area. Generally crime perpetrators will avoid areas that only allow them with one way to enter and exit, and that have high visibility and/or have a high volume of user traffic. This can be assured by:

Park designs with open, uninhibited access and a defined entry point. A good example is a park with transparent fencing around the perimeter, and one large opening in the gate for entry. Putting vendors or shared public facilities near this entrance creates more traffic and more surveillance.

Businesses with one legitimate entrance. Avoid recessed doorways. A reception/security desk is an example of organized or active access control.

A natural inclination is to place public restrooms away from centers of activity, but they can become dangerous if placed in an uninhabited area. Restrooms that are down a long hallway, or foyer entrances with closed doors, are far away from the entrance of a park, or are not visible from the roadway can become problem areas.

Personal residences with front and back doors that are clearly visible and well lit.

Territoriality / Defensible Space

Territoriality means showing that your community “owns” your neighborhood. While this includes removing graffiti and keeping buildings and yards maintained, it also refers to small personal touches. Creating flower gardens or boxes, putting out seasonal decorations, or maintaining the plants in traffic circles seems simple, but sends a clear message that people in your neighborhood care and won’t tolerate crime in their area.

These are some things that should be considered when planning for future growth:

Front porches and apartment balconies add to street surveillance.

Traffic plans that consider the size of the neighborhood. People drive by “feel” more than speed limits, so a wide, two lane residential street can lead to speeding. Traffic circles, or increasing the size of curbs can help to calm traffic.

Institutional architecture that respects the neighborhood identity and does not dwarf the current scale of the neighborhood.

Clear transitions between private, semi-private and public areas. In the picture below, paving on the walkway, elevation, and flower beds reinforce a sense of moving from a public space on the sidewalk to a private space.

Well-lit courtyard in front of a building.