Lod City Center 311.
(photo credit: WikiCommons)
Urban crime is on the rise. Two recent Lod murders within 48 hours underlined
the severity of the problem. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu himself arrived
at the scene.
Miracle solutions were proposed and approved almost
immediately: NIS 130 million, a major part of it for police.
crime problem will not be resolved through increased police forces alone. The
function of police is to apprehend criminals, but they can in no major way
create or foster security by eliminating the conditions in which most crime
Also obvious to all is that a panicky response to the problem –
clearly evident in the government’s actions in the case of Lod – is unsuitable
and sure to prove wasteful. Needed is a far deeper understanding of the roots of
the problem, including its social, economic and moral aspects, such as
inequality. One important factor, not well enough understood, is simply the
Architecture can encourage encounter or help
prevent it. Certain kinds of buildings and spatial layouts favor criminal
activity. Knowing how to identify problem areas in existing environments,
understanding why they have become dangerous, then prescribing corrective
measures is essential. Knowing how to create safe new environments, at least
avoiding the many pitfalls leading to the creation of dangerous spaces, is the
other side of the coin. While architecture admittedly operates more in the area
of influence than control, it can be an important step toward preventing
IN THE early days of the state, thousands of apartment blocks were
poorly aligned, for example, perpendicular to streets, their side elevations
windowless, their “entrances” undefined, the spaces between them a no-man’s
land. Poorly lit, narrow pedestrian paths unconnected to any building entrances
completed the picture.
The Katamonim neighborhood in Jerusalem, known for
its high crime rates, is a case in point.
Incredibly, even after some 30
years of operation, Project Renewal, administered by the Ministry of Housing and
Construction, failed to internalize these simple facts, in many cases actually
reinforcing the stigma of the anonymous buildings it was dealing with, investing
enormous amounts of time, money and energy in mainly cosmetic
The hundreds of new luxury residential towers blanketing our
major cities all have major setbacks, and are creating activity-less and
dangerous streets. And while their inhabitants live in splendid isolation above
their neighbors – protected by fences, security guards and doormen – the rest of
us are sure to pay the price.
The last thing we need is more isolated,
withdrawn and closed enclaves. Imagine the kind of society that would result if
all building complexes had barriers.
Deterring crime without having to
wall off projects can be achieved by a variety of means. Clearly articulating
the transition points between public, semipublic and private areas is essential.
In place of anonymity, project a strong identity. Architects can position
dwelling units, openings and entries, and set paths of movement and areas of
activity – signs of life – so as to provide inhabitants with continuous natural
surveillance of bordering streets and project grounds. The street comes under
surveillance from the building entries and lobbies.
relegating the responsibility to others, it’s assumed by the inhabitants in the
natural flow of their everyday activities. In this way, security is achieved by
residents, not at the expense of the surrounding area, but by insuring that
their surroundings are equally secure, their concerns in harmony with that of
the larger community.
The sad fact is that much of the above has been far
better said long ago by others. In his landmark work Defensible Space
in 1972, Oscar Newman detailed ways for architects, housing developers and city
planners to deal with many of the problems. Yet no more than a handful of
Israeli architects have read the book or absorbed its information.
our rapidly expanding population and limited land reserves, urban renewal and
the creation of new medium- to high-density, large-scale housing developments,
most difficult challenges have become an urgent necessity. The time has come for
the existing professional literature on environmental sociology and psychology –
practically unknown or systematically ignored here for so many years – to be
given the serious attention and respect it deserves.The writer is an
architect and town planner.