CPTED and Placemaking: Integrating landscape architecture and security for safer environments

By John Rinaldi and Ryan Searles 

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, or CPTED, is a multi-disciplinary approach to deterring crime through environmental design. It builds on four principles: natural surveillance, territorial reinforcement, natural access control, and maintenance.  

Landscape architects and security design consultants can use CPTED principles to help create safer and more secure environments for the built environment, gardens, parks, and other outdoor areas. That doesn’t just mean adding fences, security cameras, and barriers to entrances, though those things may be used in certain projects. Instead, it also means using landscaping to create an attractive setting and meaningful places that deter crime.  

Through our project experience, it’s more effective for CPTED to work from the perimeter of a site inward toward the public spaces, plazas, and the building. Design principles can be provided at the edge of a property to address safety throughout the site but support the creativity and design intent of the building and its surroundings. CPTED also helps to improve accessibility for all users throughout the project space. The following are effective design tools that can be used on a project to provide effective placemaking that is practical, useable, and safe.    

Natural barriers: Use natural barriers as buffers with trees and shrubs to create an attractive perimeter or shrubs and groundcovers as an edge, which creates a sense of place and privacy within the open space. This can deter criminal activity by creating natural access control and creating territorial reinforcement to distinguish between public and private areas. Landscape maintenance is important over time to ensure that sightlines and natural surveillance are maintained.  

Unnatural barriers: Fencing, bollards, and retaining walls can act as design elements that function both aesthetically and from a safety perspective.  

Lighting: Use lighting to create a sense of safety and security in a public outdoor space. Installing lights along a walking path or around a school playground will provide a better sense of awareness for people to see what is happening around them and extend the space’s useability.  

Signage: Install signs that clearly show where people should go and what they should do in a public space. This helps with territorial reinforcement and sets up a sense of safety for users. The signage should also be all-inclusive, including, for example, using tactile ADA Braille signs for the blind and visually impaired.  

Wayfinding: Use wayfinding elements such as arrows, maps, and other visual cues to help people navigate the space safely. For example, using different colored walking paths or various pavers and surface treatment techniques can guide people where you want them to go.  

Seating: Supply seating in public spaces to encourage people to experience and enjoy the area. With the Jane Jacobs design approach of “more eyes on the street or space,” this can help increase natural surveillance and deter criminal activity. 

Programming and activities: Promote regular activities in a space—farmers markets, community get-togethers, and the like—for activity and people “being seen,” or work with business owners in front of mixed-use communities or streetscapes to promote activity, cleanliness, and discouraging disorderly activity.  

Maintenance: Throughout the life of a project, keep public spaces clean and well-maintained to create a sense of pride and ownership among community members. This includes lawn and garden maintenance, as well as supplying trash receptacles. While landscapes vary in the type of species and composition, where practical, pruning trees and shrubs will maintain sightlines that can help deter criminal activity by signaling that the area is well-cared-for and has good visibility.  

Artwork: Install artwork in public spaces to create a sense of identity and community pride. An area that looks well-cared-for and watched is less likely to experience crime. Vertical design elements also can provide a dual function as an edge or barrier for safety purposes.  

With the inclusion of security design consultants and landscape architects early in the conceptual design and master planning phases of projects, CPTED principles can be discussed and implemented effectively. While every site is different and projects will vary depending on various aspects—jurisdictional approval requirements, new build or redevelopment, budgets and time constraints—it is likely at least some measures of CPTED can be included to provide enhancements for a project. CPTED can manage the built and natural environment to provide safety for its users in the places and communities they enjoy.  

Learn more about CPTED in this podcast