Designing out crime

"It turns out that people are many, many more times likely to be helpful in the way of giving you change for a dollar if they're somewhere where the air smells good...

"Actually what determines what people do is at least as much their circumstances as their character - perhaps surprisingly, more their circumstances than their character.

"And what that suggests... is that it's terrifically important to shape the world in the way that gives people the context in which they'll behave well."

Professor Anthony Appiah,
Analysis, Radio 4, June 29th

A few weeks ago, Radio 4 broadcast a fascinating programme, which looked at how humans make moral choices. The implication of Anthony Appiah's comments is that we can reduce crime and anti-social behaviour through environmental design.

We were reminded of these comments the other day, when walking past the bottom of Cranfield Road. A group of three lads was parked up in their car, eating their fairly-disgusting looking burgers. The one in the passenger seat, furthest from the kerb opened his window and lobbed a mass of greasy paper and food over the roof of the car, on to the pavement.

We are not particularly brave, but writing this blog means we sometimes feel an obligation to put our money where out mouth is... We picked up the rubbish and spoke to the guy through the window, asking him not to chuck stuff on the ground. People with such a strong disregard for civil behaviour are often those with the strongest sense of personal honour, so we were fairly worried about being stabbed. Instead, we just got incredulous looks: what business was it of ours and why did we care?

Anyway, it's not a new observation that environment and behaviour are strongly linked, but it further underlines the need to take design and enforcement seriously when it comes to our streets. Create the right environment and people will behave better. Allow rubbish to pile up, cars to park on pavements and shops to use security shutters and people will treat the place disrespectfully. Hem pedestrians in behind ugly fences and cars speed up.

So problems like parking enforcement in Brockley Cross and fly tipping aren't just superficial or aesthetic issues, they are fundamental to the way our local community works. Fix the pavements in Brockley Road and the rest will follow.

By the way, the rest of the Radio 4 programme went on to argue that humans have a tendency to decide what is right based on moral impulses that are hard-wired in to us courtesy of natural selection and that we try to retrofit rational argument in order to justify our instincts even when there is little rational basis for our feelings. We're sure no-one using this website would recognise that kind of behaviour.

36 comments:

Brockley Kate said...

Litter is appalling on Brockley Road. The other week I Twittered about the state of it in the mornings - bags of rubbish and food waste left out overnight by the shopkeepers, which the foxes then rip up and scatter everywhere. It's disgusting and combined with the terrible pavements makes the area feel really scummy. It's an embarrassment, frankly. Shopkeepers in the rest of London seem to manage without leaving rubbish all over the main pedestrian throughfares, so why not here? There's even a mews at the back where big bins could be stored, for god's sake.

Anonymous said...

That's an excellent story Nick - are there any examples of where this has been put into practice that you know of?

(the emphasis being on newly created environments rather than places that have been tarted up)

Anonymous said...

The bins and general mess in front of the Afro/Carribean barbers at the traffic lights is the worst street scape on Brockley Road...hideously littered, unloved and basically scummy.

Headhunter said...

I always think about designing out crime when I'm down in Lewisham. On the opposite side of the road to the DLR station someone (the council?) has installed some nice new shiny bike racks for people to lock their bikes on. Great thought but awful location.

They are neatly tucked on the inside wall of a largely unobserved arch under the railway. It's the perfect spot for a thief to take his or her time bolt cutting through bike locks unwatched and uninterrupted after taking a couple of minutes to select the nicest bike there.

Sainsbury's, New Cross also has bike racks nicely secreted away down at 1 end of the front of the supermarket near the deliveries entrance. Great for thieves, nicely tucked away from prying eyes. TBH most people ignore them and chain their bikes to the trolley cages, probably partly through security concerns and partly laziness as they can't be bothered to walk the length of the store to the entrance.

I know that having bike racks in full view doesn't mean that someone is guaranteed to stop a thief trying to make away with someone's bike, but why on earth make it easy for them? It just wastes police time when victims have to call to get crime numbers etc for insurance. Bike racks should always be in view in a very obvious place.

fred vest said...

I wonder of what import to the anecdote is the fact that the burgers were fairly disgusting looking!

the whole designing out crime thing has got its merits, but the flip side of it is that when it's used as a crux for regeneration it can often lead to designing out of people and merely displacing crime - rather than actually reducing it

i remember listening to this programme a few weeks back also, and i tend to agree with the point about trying to backfill rationality into your actions/opinions which are often based on impulse, however i think there's a bit of a contradiction in the overall message as on one hand the point was made that people are creatures of their lived in environment (social being determining consciousness rather than the other way round) and therefore actions/opinions have an environmental grounding, yet on the other hand the claim is made that our actions/responses are already hard wired into us at birth via millions of years of evolution which kind of contradicts the determining basis of the actual environment we live in - i guess you can reconcile these two things over the longer term but they do seem to mix up two different approaches

there was a good example on the program where people were asked whether they would divert an oncoming train via a switch which was going to mow down people away from a track that had 7 people on it towards a track that only had 1, and most people said they would as in rational terms the death of 1 person is better than 7. but then when asked if to save the 7 people they had to actually push 1 person off a bridge or something like that which would have killed them (but saved the rest) most people said instinctively that they wouldn't do it and tried to justify it in various ways, even though the rational basis for doing so is exactly the same in both cases

The Cat Man said...

Interesting Article.

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense.

I was worried that the Broca Food Market's fancy motiff design on their shutters would be graffitted, but it hasn't been. This is despite the shop next to it, in the past nearly always having graffitti on it.

Same with the flowerbeds idea: Put something decent in and it will promote a more respectable community behaviour.

All the more reason to plant more trees and remove the pedestrian railings along brockley road.

The Cat Man said...

Fred Vest, I would of done it. But then again I have a much more 'macro' view of things compared to most.

Anonymous said...

"would of"?

Anonymous said...

So, you have two train lines, one express train travelling rapidly on each, and catman tied to one line and hugh tied to the other - which one would you save?

and why?

The Cat Man said...

Thats an unfair question..

Hugh has buns of steel, I don't.

Brockley Jon said...

Great story, and indeed there is a lot of truth in it. Keep those local suggestions coming.

Nick's anecdote reminds me of a time I was walking past the Honeypot and a punter sitting in his car stuck his hand out the window and dropped his chicken remains right in front of me. I cast him a moody stare, but I always regret not having the balls to throw the thing right back at him! (note, I often pick other people's litter up, but I draw the line at chicken leftovers as it's pretty gross)

Anonymous said...

Don't the City of London get there rubbish picket up during the night,And also have council staff enforcing shopkeepers not to just leave rubbish outside anywhere.

fred vest said...

"Fred Vest, I would of done it. But then again I have a much more 'macro' view of things compared to most."

that's odd as you strike me as one of the most narrow minded people on here

drakefell debaser said...

macro view catman? Of what exactly?

The Cat Man said...

*Yawn*

Brockley Nick said...

@Fred - the disgustingness of the burger was meant to add a little colour to the piece and emphasise how greasy and disgusting the mass of paper and food thrown on the floor was.

@Anon 11.12 - when i have some time, I'll try digging out some case studies.

Anon 11.12 said...

thanks, didn't mean to put you to work or anything, but it would be nice to know

perhaps if anyone else knows as well

Anonymous said...

Isn't this just the 'broken window' problem?

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/crime/safehood.htm">help

If the first broken window in a building is not repaired, then people who like breaking windows will assume that no one cares about the building and more windows will be broken.

When people in this district see that a gang has spray-painted its initials on all the stop signs, they decide that the gang, not the people or the police, controls the streets.

Disneyland is example of this at work. When was the last time anyone got mugged by a gang of dwarfs in Disneyland?

Maradoll said...

When was the last time a gang of dwarfs could afford to get into Disneyland - seriously, have you seen their prices?

Seriously though I do believe that a better environment makes for better people. Now that I've made this statement I should probably attend the next Brockley Cross Action group - if more people volunteered their time we could probably actually make Brockley a much nicer place without relying on the shop keepers to make the first move.

Brockley Kate said...

anon (15.32) - I said that last time Nick wrote about this issue. Don't think anyone picked up on it though.

Anonymous said...

I believe that theory and that is why I am concerned about those new trains for the ELL. They are severe looking and think it's going to bring out the worst in people.
They've got Wormwood scrubs on rails aura about, they give me the creeps.

Bea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bea said...

Intersting read.

That part of Cranfield Road is dreadful despite the newly tarted up council housing and Pavillion estate agent. It's a fly tipping hotspot and dog poo corner. As there is a long wall down one side I guess people think they are unobserved and can get away with anti-social behaviour.

Not sure what the solution along the wall is but a better high street round the corner with paving that doesn't trip up pedstrians or leave massive puddles when it rains as well as removing the bent metal railings would be a good start!

Fred Vest - re burger, surely Nick was adding flavour!

Brockley Kate said...

People piss in the alleyway at the bottom of Cranfield Road all the time. It is disgusting.

Tamsin said...

Environment makes a huge difference to behaviour - and windows are important both for looking out of and letting light in. Why the much consulted but still railroaded through scheme (now on hold but unlikely to be significantly revised) for the Kender triangle was slated by certain medics commenting on it as condusive to anti-social behaviour. Large expanses of blank wall and tiny windows. However by the time these chickens come home to roost the NDC will be long gone and no-one accountable.

ASBO said...

I couldn't agree more about the shutters on shops-they make the area look run down more than anything else. I notice in Ladywell that Geddes have a floor to ceiling glass window and they manage to do without shutters. The other shops by contrast look terrible and after closing time they look disused-Ladywell road looks like a ghost town. It would be great to get all other shopkeepers to follow Geddes' lead.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure, but I think the insurance is cheaper with shutters and grills on shop fronts.

I suspect there is link between insurance companies and the makers of locks and shutters.

Together they suggest a shopping parade is in high crime area.

Shutters, neglected pavements, poor shop waste collection by t'council, shops left empty by landlords and rubbish on the streets from takeaways.

We have the lot.

ASBO said...

Anon-Insurance is indeed cheaper with shutters and grills but as studies mention above seem to indicate, there is a link between a persons environment and how they behave.
In Crofton Park Jam Circus doesn't have shuttters I think. They don't seem to be troubled by vandalism. Babur Indian restuarant also doesn't have grills and shutters (I think their take away does though). Perhaps it is because these businesses have interiors to be proud of that they are willing to pay that bit extra for insurance. Along with Geddes, these businesses seem to be very vibrant and are able to take a view as far as extra insurance costs are concerned because they seem to be busy, well run operations.

Tamsin said...

Would paying a grant towards the extra insurance and the cost of shutter removal be something positive and simple that the Council could do to regenerate an area rather than its usual nebulous reports and vage initiatives that get nowhere?

Although I suppose it would not work as it would have to be on-going and the Council can never commit to expenditure anything more than three years ahead. Hence the usual way of thowing massively inappropriate capital sums at long-term issues.

On the other hand, is there scope for creative thinking and having a policy of the extra insurance costs of non-shuttered shop-fronts being something that can be set against the Business Rates.

Monkeyboy said...

Random comment, shutters may have made more sense before the advent of toughened glass? If you have modern glazing do you need shutters??

...end of random comment.

Monkeyboy said...

...also do shops in Brockley have high value window displays? Mind you Sounds Around does have a rather nice flashing crucifixion sculpture that I've got my eye on - £9.99.

ASBO said...

A reduction in business rates would be a great incentive I'm sure.
Successful, vibrant businesses leave clues and you only need to look at how attractive the businesses I have mentioned look to see that having a nice frontage does make a difference. Many of the boroughs that have'come up' have encouraged shopkeepers to change their shopfronts. Getting rid of these graffiti riddled shutters would be a start.

Tamsin said...

OK, let's get onto our respective Ward Councillors about it. And is it Malcolm Smith who is head of regeneration in LBL?

Anonymous said...

That's a good idea Tamsin - they'd give you the usual brush off (see Nicks brockley-cross-parking as an example) in terms of things that need to be done to the present environment, might be interesting if they have an answer how the 'designing out crime' theory has been brought into play with *any* current or proposed development (I'm thinking Loampit Vale of course, but the planning at Sainburys New X may serve equally as well)

patrick1971 said...

Re the Kender Triangle/small windows etc., surely it's being built like this so the sides of the flats that face the busy roads only house bathrooms/toilets rather than bedrooms and living rooms? So, once again, the problem is cars...

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