All our public buildings, including schools, hospitals and housing, come with high levels of security that are transforming the nature of the environment around us. At the same time, fear of crime and concerns about safety and security are at an all-time high. Although crime has been falling steadily in the UK since 1995, the vast majority of people (as high as 84 per cent, according to the British Crime Survey) believe it is rising.
High security is a now prerequisite of planning permission for all new developments, through a government-backed design policy called Secured by Design. While this includes sensible recommendations, such as the need for adequate locks on doors and windows, the application of Secured by Design standards tends to create very high security environments, which can appear threatening. For example, a gated development in East London was commended for its small windows, reinforced steel door with full‑size iron gate and grey aluminium military-style roof.
Schools in particular have become high security environments, emphasising gating, high fences and CCTV. Because Secured by Design requirements for schools and public buildings are based on an audit of local crime risk, higher crime areas, which correlate with higher deprivation scores, are characterised by buildings with a militarised feel. Fortress levels of security are now a visual marker for poor parts of Britain.
How and why did these ‘standards’ become contemporary orthodoxy? Over the past 30 years, private property has become increasingly prominent because of the growing importance placed on home ownership, and the spread of ‘mass private property’, in the form of shopping malls, finance districts, airports, leisure parks, conference centres, university and hospital campuses and gated communities. Criminologists Clifford D Shearing and Philip C Stenning, in a seminal article in 1981, pointed out that mass private property inevitably demanded private security.
Around the same time, the idea of ‘defensible space’ was becoming influential. Coined by Oscar Newman, an American architect and town planner, this design idea amounted to a new political and intellectual philosophy for crime and its prevention. Expounding the virtues of private space, individual responsibility and territoriality, it chimed with the rise of neoliberalism.
The appeal of Newman’s thesis for policymakers was that it put forward a straightforward solution for preventing crime in highly complex situations, championing a ‘can do’ method of changing people’s behaviour, which Newman claimed worked even in the poorest areas. His main finding was that ‘territoriality’ created space that could defend itself. By marking out boundaries clearly, residents would feel a sense of ownership over places, encouraging them to look after their patch and discouraging strangers and opportunistic criminals from entering.
The key figure responsible for importing Newman’s ideas to Britain was the controversial geographer Alice Coleman. If Newman’s work was received with scepticism among American peers, Coleman’s 1985 book Utopia on Trial: visions and reality in planned housing was excoriated by critics who claimed that her dismissal of the influence of poverty was based on ‘pseudo science’. She nonetheless went on to gain the ear of Margaret Thatcher in 1988, receiving an unprecedented £50 million in government funding for what Thatcher considered ‘an important social experiment’.
Secured by Design came into being in 1989. Its influence is considerable: planning permission for all public buildings, housing and schools is now contingent on meeting its standards. Although it is administered by the Association of Chief Police Officers, Secured by Design is now an independent private company, funded by 480 security companies which sell products that qualify for Secured by Design standards.
There is scant evidence that the spread of gating, CCTV and defensible space strategies create safe, cohesive and trusting communities. The Scottish Office found that, while people often believed CCTV would make them feel safer, both crime and the fear of crime rose in the area investigated. The author concluded the introduction of CCTV had undermined people’s personal and collective responsibility for each other’s safety.
Our field study examined the effects of Secured by Design in a social housing estate in south-west London. Focus groups and interviews were carried out with residents and practitioners (workers in estate services, youth services and so on) on a Peabody Trust estate in the Pimlico area. We began by defining what high security meant for the groups. Their definition included gating, fencing, removing permeable spaces, gating off entrances and exits, CCTV across the whole site, security guards wearing high visibility uniforms, alarm systems and electronic systems.
Incidents of actual crime were rarely mentioned. By far the biggest problem was young people hanging around late into the night around the play area in the courtyard of Peabody Avenue. On a number of occasions the play area had been vandalised. Two views emerged. The first was that security innovations were the solution and were seen by many as a power struggle, with young people playing ‘a game’ to outsmart authority. The other view was that, while disruption to residents into the early hours was unacceptable, there were too few alternative activities and places to go for young people in the wider area.
Our respondents echoed the findings from other research that efforts to create ‘defensible space’ could increase fear of strangers. They worried about gates restricting access for elderly and disabled people. There was also concern that high security gave a message to those outside that ‘something is wrong with that estate’.
CCTV was very popular with residents, although it did not necessarily add to feelings of safety, with residents reporting the presence of CCTV could in fact increase feelings of anxiety. One resident said, ‘Sometimes it makes me feel more anxious. Because I think I’m in a bad area, I get into a panic sometimes because, for one, you’re not sure the cameras are working.’
Fear of crime does not correlate with actual crime – which was barely discussed by the groups – but it does correlate directly with trust. In turn, high levels of trust correlate with well-being. The residents interviewed felt that ‘knowing people’ was the key to creating trust. This gave rise to a discussion on the role of caretakers, who lived on the estate until 2005. Caretakers or ‘supers’ as they were known, were badly missed by practitioners and residents alike, who commented that technological solutions had replaced ‘people on the ground’. This particularly affected elderly and isolated people, who found great reassurance from the presence of known individuals with friendly faces, who would also notice if certain residents hadn’t been seen for a few days.
We ended by giving participants a fantasy budget to create a safe and trusting community. They chose to make some investment in security features but decided to allocate the largest portion of the budget to ‘people on the ground’, including caretakers and youth workers.
Our engagement with Peabody has revealed a substantial disconnect between the assumptions underpinning Secured by Design and the day-to-day experiences of people living amongst CCTV, high fences and gates. It was a small study, but clear conclusions have nevertheless emerged about the links between fear and trust and the removal of guardianship figures who were seen to provide the ‘social glue’ in communities. Their loss was an indirect result of compliance with Secured by Design. Yet it appears that they were much more effective in building trust in communities than the installation of CCTV, gating and door entry systems.
Anna Minton is the author of Ground Control. Jody Aked is a PhD student at the Institute of Development Studies. This article was extracted from a New Economics Foundation report. The full version is available at annaminton.com
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry