What’s YOUR opinion on fixing urban crime?


By living so close to a relatively major population center, we have experienced and heard quite a bit about urban crime, but it’s hard to say we know how to fix this persistent problem. However, there have been many studies and increased interest in this topic, with the growing number of cities, megacities, and urban populations. And of course, who wouldn’t want to be safe?

Just this past year in Seattle alone, violent crime increased 20%, making it the highest rate in 14 years. Property crimes also increased, and this was also the highest year for shootings within the last decade. Homelessness has also been especially prevalent in the area, leading to increased anxiety for many of the civilians traveling throughout the city.

By 2045, it has been estimated that around 6 billion people will be a part of the world’s urban population, an increase in the population of 1.5 times. The increased population density has led to experts wanting solutions before getting to that point, because we don’t want to have to solve a problem, just prevent it. It is an issue not only in the U.S. and here in Seattle but it is also a pressing global issue.

In the past when cities first came to be with the beginnings of agriculture, they were used to protecting their residents and possessions with walls and moats. But today, it’s nothing like that, with the dangers to citizens being far different. The current designs of cities have become a playground for those performing crime, with the collection of stores, alleys, bridges, and of course, the ability to simply blend into crowds and go unnoticed. This is due to the high population density of these areas, all spearheaded by the current design of infrastructure in our cities, as well as the diversity within socio-economic positions that naturally comes with the increase in population. This inequality can create distrust and suspicion between different groups, from those who are affluent to those who are living in poverty, which can be a major difference from villages or other areas of the population that are quite smaller in comparison.

A picture of Peter Riegert acting as Oscar Newman in the HBO miniseries Show Me a Hero, which features the historical portrayal of Newman explaining the problems with communal spaced apartments rather than townhomes.

The first “true” exploration into solutions for these problems was in 1972, when Oscar Newman published his book Defensible Space. This was one of the first forays into CPTED, or Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. It discusses physical, technical, and operational security, and within those categories, there are 5 sections architects can use to design with safety in mind. These 5 categories are physical security, surveillance, movement control, maintenance, and the title category, defensible space.

However, the implementation of these strategies is more problematic than the strategies needed themselves. It’s known how to stop the problem, but another problem arises when we can’t apply the solution in developing countries. This is due to the cost of architecture and construction, and in many established cities, the stigma against destroying historical buildings that do not help reduce crime.

We’ve seen proof of these strategies working, notably in India, where it has had an incredibly positive effect. In the Indian state of Kerala, the CPTED strategy was implemented and it was incredibly effective, leading theft to decrease by 23%, and to overall crime dropping by 25%. This was done through a combination of repaved streets, regular maintenance, upgraded CCTV (Closed Circuit Television), restored buildings, and improved lighting.

A photo of the Seattle Underground, one of the places in the city that is incredibly well connected to the history here, and is an example of the old decaying to make way for the new.

Now, the question is not if we should implement them or what we should implement, but rather an inquiry into how. From what you know through your experiences, would you support the destruction of historical buildings in Seattle, to help increase our citizens’ safety? Or do you think that history should be respected and have a place in our city, despite the consequences that it could bring?