A New Approach To Environmental Crime Prevention: The SAFE Design Standard®

article1_122832832By Dr. Kelly W. Sundberg.

Ever since medieval times, when moats and stonewalls were constructed to protect castles, architects and engineers have applied environmental design techniques as a means to protect property. Centuries later, social scientists and design scholars began to study how the purposeful planning, design, construction and landscaping of a built environment can promote stewardship among the users of a space, often resulting in fewer incidents of crime. With fewer incidents of crime, an environment will typically emerge as a highly desirable place in which to live, learn, work and play. Likewise, when citizens understand that the urban environment they occupy has specifically been designed with public safety and security in mind, they will naturally feel less fearful of crime and more focussed on the opportunities within their surrounding community.

Recognising the importance design plays in the creation of safer, more liveable and cohesive communities, in 2010, a multidisciplinary and international group of environmental criminologists, design professionals, real estate developers, and business professionals came together to establish what is today the SAFE Design Council – an international, Canadian-based, non-profit organisation focussed on advancing environmental crime reduction research, scholarship and education. A key task of the SAFE Design Council is overseeing, administering and managing the SAFE Design Standard® (Security Achieved through Functional Environmental Design) – a scholarly-based, environmental crime reduction methodology aimed at reducing crime through functional landscape, architectural and interior design.

As with traditional approaches to environmental crime reduction, the SAFE Design Standard® includes the assessment of site access points, wayfinding and signage, pathways and roadways, barriers and fencing, visibility and illumination, mechanical and computerised security technologies, and other design elements intended for controlling access and movement in and around a building or site. Expanding on traditional approaches, the SAFE Design Standard® includes a rigorous, systematic and standardised evaluation of a property’s landscape, buildings and interior spaces using evidence-based quantitative measures.

All built environments certified using the SAFE Design Standard® methodology undergo a comprehensive and systematic multi-phase assessment by an Accredited SAFE Design Professional™ (ASDP). What sets SAFE Design Standard® assessments apart from traditional environmental crime reduction approaches is the use of a consistent assessment methodology that integrates evidence-based measures for the design, development and construction of built environments. Additionally, assessments using the SAFE Design Standard® also require the review, evaluation and appraisal of crime risks in the vicinity of a property being certified. Once an ASDP has completed the certification process, they will submit a report to the SAFE Design Council and request that the property be certified. The SAFE Design Council will confirm the SAFE Design Standard® has been properly applied and that all necessary requirements have been met – ultimately leading to certification being awarded.

The SAFE Design Standard® aims to noticeably reduce incidents of violence, theft and vandalism, as well as other crime risks, from occurring within a built environment – arguably increasing a property’s marketability and overall value. Additionally, properties certified under the SAFE Design Standard® stand to realise higher valuation during appraisal and may also be eligible for insurance discounts. A core benefit of the SAFE Design Standard® is its applicability to virtually any type of property anywhere in the world. In addition, design, engineering and urban planning firms, as well as private and public security services, can easily include SAFE Design Standard® consulting and assessment services with their current professional services – adding a new revenue stream while also improving community safety.

The principal goal of the SAFE Design Standard® is to create functional built environments where legitimate users feel safe and secure, and potential offenders feel vulnerable to detection and apprehension – all while avoiding the need for overt or undesirable fortification. Moreover, because the SAFE Design Standard® promotes the use of desired landscape, architectural and interior features to enhance safety and security, SAFE Design Standard® certified properties characteristically are more functional and aesthetically pleasing when compared to properties that have been heavily fortified using more traditional crime reduction approaches.

Being a scholarly-based program administered by a non-profit organisation, those who apply the SAFE Design Standard® can be confident knowing the methodology is objective and academically rigorous. Moreover, the SAFE Design Council is committed to ensuring the SAFE Design Standard® is informed by industry and evolves based on research and scholarship. A critical aspect in assuring the SAFE Design Standard® is applied consistently and appropriately to a built environment is the requirement that all who apply the standard first receive comprehensive education and training. By first developing a foundational knowledge of environmental criminology and environmental design scholarship, those applying the SAFE Design Standard® methodology will be more accurate, effective and efficient in their efforts. To bolster the value of its educational programs, the SAFE Design Council recently became an approved continuing education provider with the American Institute of Architects. Likewise, executive members of the SAFE Design Council have presented their scholarship at major academic conferences around the world with the aim of refining and advancing the SAFE Design Standard® itself.

While still a relatively new contribution to the field of environmental criminology, the SAFE Design Standard® methodology has been featured on MSNBC in the United States, cited in various industry and academic journals, and also recognised as a valuable approach to crime reduction by the Government of British Columbia Blue-Ribbon Committee on Reducing Crime. As the SAFE Design Standard® methodology gains recognition and support from government, industry and academe alike, the SAFE Design Council hope more professionals involved in the design, maintenance and security of our urban environments will increasingly adopt the methodology in all their professional services – a move that ultimately would promote safer and more vibrant communities.

Dr. Kelly W. Sundberg is President of the SAFE Design Council, a non-profit organisation responsible for overseeing, administering and managing the SAFE Design Standard® – the first international environmental crime reduction certification program focussed on achieving security through functional architectural and landscape design. Led by a multidisciplinary team of academics, design professionals, property developers, crime reduction specialists, and business/legal experts, the SAFE Design Council is committed to the quality, legitimacy and rigor of the SAFE Design Standard®. Central to the SAFE Design Council is a focus on providing a scholarly-based certification program that is informed by industry experts and delivered by trusted professionals committed to service excellence. You can find out more about the SAFE Design Council and the SAFE Design Standard® at www.safedesigncouncil.org