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Crime and vandalism - challenges and practical considerations

Deprived neighbourhoods experience more severe problems of graffiti, litter and fly-tipping and poorly maintained public and open space. The visual appearance of green space can impact on the surrounding area, and neglected open spaces have been found to cause a negative impact by contributing to the onset of crime and vandalism. However, the management of urban greenspace to ensure it is of a high standard can help to reduce the prevalence of crime and vandalism and improve the aesthetic quality of an area.

Background

As the quality of urban greenspace declined in the 1980s and 90s, so did the public perception of problems of crime. Unfortunately, it is clear that many people do not make use of their local open spaces because of a fear of exposure to anti-social behaviour or crime. This may range from a simple lack of respect, such as fly-tipping and litter, vandalism and graffiti, dangerous use of vehicles, personal abuse and rowdiness, to more serious crimes involving violence, theft or drugs.

The widespread popularity of outdoor team sports in greenspace areas offers many opportunities to improve health and fitness, build strong community links with young people, burn off energy, and develop a sense of pride in physical skills and ability. It is a key element in the reduction of juvenile crime and vandalism. The latent demand for good quality outdoor sports facilities, in the form of well-drained pitches and courts, parking and changing facilities greatly exceeds supply in many areas. Provision of access to good quality public green spaces that are maintained to a high standard can be an important community service for reducing crime and vandalism.

Practical considerations

For urban communities, well maintained green space has been found to:

  • Reduce violence and crime
  • Help with social interaction
  • Increase community integration and support

Consultation of the local community at all stages in the design and provision of greenspace can lead to community cohesion and empowerment. In areas of social deprivation that have been improved through the provision of high quality green space crime and vandalism levels have been seen to reduce and these areas can be used for a variety of activities such as exercise and fitness which will also raise general levels of health and well-being in the community.

Additional information

Forest design can be used to reduce perceptions of risk, and also to reduce actual levels of crime. Some forest managers are involved with probation services and voluntary organisations in the rehabilitation of offenders, and in some cases experience shows that this can instil a positive attitude towards forests, so reducing levels of crime. Well-used and well-managed woodlands near to where people live can provide inclusive access and tend to attract less anti-social behaviour than unmanaged woodlands.

Environmental design can be used to reduce crime and vandalism through a number of principles which include:

  • Accessibility and movement – defined safe routes are needed.
  • Surveillance – CCTV and natural surveillance where the public look out for each other, e.g. Neighbourhood Watch.
  • Creation of ‘defensible’ space –through landscaping or erecting fences in appropriate places.
  • Improved physical protection on properties - such as doors and windows.
  • Appropriate community ownership and use.
  • Good management policies.
  • Adoption of police award schemes such as ‘secured by design’ or ‘secure car parks’.

Problem areas identified include potential gathering places, for example where youths or vehicles are brought together. The public open space in residential estates, for example open carparks, public toilets and unoccupied sites, are all potential problem areas. Possible strategies to deal with problems have been identified and these include:

  • Use of operational police and warden patrols.
  • Introduction of alcohol exclusion zones.

There is also a range of landscaping options. For example, hedges act as better barriers than fences. Aggressive planting of thorny shrubs can be used to control access to some areas. Encouraging mixed use of an area, e.g. dog walking, provision of seating, also enables a wider range of people to use an area. Gravel surfaces can be used in sensitive areas providing an acoustic signal that someone is approaching.

Local communities can be involved in the design, layout, planting, management and maintenance of green space areas and can therefore create designs that they have chosen and in which they are proud. Management of open spaces in the longer term needs to be secured, as small patches of woodland that become ‘wilderness’ can quickly become no-go areas.

Case studies

Oldham

Oldham’s ‘Friends of the Park’ groups have been developed as part of Oldham’s greenspace strategy. The aim of the group is to help regenerate their local park, promote community action on crime and antisocial behaviour, to generate funding for new facilities, to organise activities for teenagers, and to provide networks of support for the elderly.

Furncade Parade Tipton, West Midlands

The wooded area of Furncade Parade was overgrown with scrub and became a haven for unsocial and criminal activity. The local Council wanted to clear the site, but a few local residents wanted to keep it because of its habitat value, particularly for resident foxes. BTCV and approximately 15 local residents worked together over several weekends to remove the perimeter fence, cut down areas of scrub, thin out the trees and open up parts of the woodland to improve visibility. The aim was to create a ‘meadow woodland’, with standard trees that have a high, light canopy with grass and herbs beneath. In autumn 1995, three days of woodland activities such as charcoal burning and woodland crafts were held with Groundwork, and over 400 people attended. The crime and vandalism has completely disappeared from the site, which has been transformed into a local asset instead of a liability.

Services

Forest Research’s Forest Watch Scheme in Wales aims to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour in woodland in South Wales.  

Further information

O’Brien, E.A. and Tabbush, P. (2005). Accessibility of woodlands and natural spaces: addressing crime and safety issues. Forest Research, Farnham.

Stratford-On-Avon District Council (2006). Planning and Community Safety Design and Crime Reduction(PDF-1330K). Stratford-on-Avon District Council.