Post Mortem

A city isn’t smart if it cannot provide safety

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 3/16/2021 1:45:40 PM IST

 As India embarks on retrofitting old cities to make them smart and investing in new urban developments, some conceptual rethink is needed to make them safer. Town planners and security professionals are increasingly collaborating, using concepts from behavioural sciences, environmental psychology and criminology while designing urban habitats. One such initiative is called Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED). Many of the concepts of CPTED are part of the Indian tradition, though they may have been lost sight of in the course of urban evolution. With modifications, standard urban planning can address the needs of community safety and policing much better.

CPTED started with elements of the physical environment, such as how many people are looking into a place; the lighting; the control of who is allowed into a space; the sense of belonging and the image that a place conveys. Such factors are known to influence the decision of the offenders on whether or not to commit a crime, based on the psychological estimation of opportunities vs risks. A lonely dark street, with dead walls on both sides, will always be a preferred target for crimes on the street and the adjoining buildings.

A boundary wall is generally thought up as the first line of defence against intrusion. As crime rates go up, people begin to invest in stronger and higher compound walls. In fact, such a wall can cut off all visual and audio links to the house from the street and vice-versa. These walls can also become psychological barriers for any neighbourly relations to develop. If there are children playing on the street or people in the vicinity, crime is difficult to commit as there is community surveillance. Ultimately, no one from the street can help anyone in distress behind such a wall, and no one from the house can deter street crimes.

Another common response to heightened security concerns has been the popularity of gated communities, to create safe havens for those who can afford them. Ironically, these real estate silos are recognised today as working against security. Their dead walls, exclusionary practices and restricted communities symbolise desperate attempts to buy a piece of security, but this does not even extend to the space right outside the gates. The conventional approach to city planning does not realise that community participation in surveillance, citizen involvement in acting against crime, and socio-cultural factors are all essential security features.

Usually, when it comes to securing a smart city, CCTV surveillance has been thought up as the technology of choice. They are, indeed, helpful in the detection of crime, though not as directly for prevention. Even for investigation, their efficacy is reduced when criminals are masked or the exact time of the crime is difficult to ascertain, increasing the list of suspect vehicles and individuals beyond any practical use. 

Community surveillance and involvement of neighbours, well-wishers and local people can never be substituted by electronic gadgets and physical barriers. The critical balance between the connection with community and privacy hinges on cultivating the neighbour as a partner and not as an adversary. The Neighbourhood Watch Scheme in some cities is a success story that aligns with the global theories of CPTED.

It is time that the design fraternity and policymakers realised that security has never been and cannot be the sole responsibility of a single department, i.e. the police. India’s urban development needs to re-adjust its methodologies to integrate security into the planning of cities, neighbourhoods and regulatory controls. Re-adjust because most things are right, and course correction is all that is required. For example, the boundary wall height is restricted in by-laws. We need to enforce them and provide for the sense of community, visual connect and natural security to develop. This is the only solution to cope with the endless pressure on police resources and address the common citizen’s anxiety.

Sudhanshu Sarangi and Manjari Khanna Kapoor

(Sarangi is Senior IPS officer and Kapoor is an architect-security intergrationist.)

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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