Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED)

Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) – Understand

I. Introduction

The physical (built) environment is often an important contributing factor in determining whether a crime is likely, or unlikely, to occur in a particular location. Changing the physical environment in a specific way could therefore create challenges for certain types of crime to be committed and may reduce incidents of crime and violence in a particular area. This is a well-recognised and widely practised approach to crime prevention, and is internationally most commonly known as Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED, pronounced sep-ted)i.


A definition of CPTED

CPTED is a multi-disciplinary approach to deterring criminal behaviour through environmental design. CPTED strategies rely upon the ability to influence offender decisions that precede criminal acts by affecting the built, social and administrative environment.

The International CPTED Association (ICA)ii

II. CPTED in South Africa


It is widely acknowledged that certain opportunities for criminal events to occur could be reduced by applying sound planning, design and management principles to the built environment. It is also accepted that the physical environment could play a significant role in influencing perceptions of safety.

The National Development Plan 2030 (NDP) acknowledges that situational factors such as spatial or environmental design should be considered when developing a framework for community safety and crime prevention, and specifically mentions “…urban design that will take account of safety…”iii. The critical role of planning, design and management in creating safer living environments, particularly public spaces, is recognised in the Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF)iv.

In 1996, the government introduced South Africa’s National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS)v. One of its four pillars focussed on “reducing crime through environmental design”. The implementation of this pillar was supported by an extensive study conducted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial research (CSIR) and the Institute for Security Studies (ISS). It involved extensive local research aimed at contextualising international theories, approaches and concepts, including CPTEDvi, situational crime preventionvii, environmental criminologyviii, defensible spaceix and ‘eyes on the street’x. The study resulted in a South African interpretation of crime prevention through environmental design, as described in Designing Safer Places - A Manual for Crime Prevention through Planning and Designxi. The White Paper on Safety and Securityxii published in 2016 recognises “Safety through environmental design” as one of the six themes that informs crime and violence prevention.

The South African Context

South Africa’s particular spatial and socio-economic characteristics and the country’s history of forced segregation have resulted in a distinct relationship between crime and the physical environment. Spatial patterns and the form and structure of South African cities and towns are the result of planning principles and approaches that were largely influenced by the country’s apartheid ideology. The poorest communities are, for the most part, located on the urban periphery, which means that the residents have to travel long distances to and from their places of employment as well as commercial, social, recreational, healthcare and other facilities. These neighbourhoods often lack adequate infrastructure (electricity, water, sanitation etc.), facilities and amenities (including recreational facilities such as community halls and sports facilities), as well as safe public spaces such as parks.

These conditions often provide opportunities for crime and result in environments where people feel unsafe. Contributing factors include the lack of adequate lighting in public spaces (especially streets), the absence of street names and house numbers, and the presence of informal (and often illegal) taverns. It may sometimes also be difficult for the police to patrol or to respond to calls in these areas due to the poor condition of streets, or, in the case of informal settlements, the complete lack of vehicle access routes. Also, even though a large proportion of the South African population does not own a motor vehicle, most neighbourhoods are not designed to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists, while public transport are not always effective, efficient, safe, reliable and affordable. People are therefore vulnerable to becoming victims of crime and violence when they have to travel.

Figure 1: A lack of adequate housing and infrastructure characterise many poorer areas.

While poorer communities do not have access to a wide range of security measures, more affluent residents have the resources to implement a range of security measures. In addition to alarm systems and armed response services, gated communities are becoming increasingly popular. These gated communities could take on various forms, including large security (lifestyle) estates, smaller security complexes, as well as enclosed neighbourhoods, (road closures), where existing, public streets are closed or boomed off. 

Figure 2: Security complexes are changing the character of the urban landscape in many settlements.

The significant differences between the social and spatial contexts of different South African communities and neighbourhoods places a complex set of demands on crime prevention initiatives. However, CPTED interventions can often be implemented effectively in any of these contexts and could form part of a crime prevention strategy that would suit the needs of any communityxiii.

Figure 3: Some communities close off existing public streets in an attempt to improve neighbourhood safety.

III. CPTED Principles for South Africa

A number of principles guide the implementation of CPTED. These vary slightly between countries, depending on local interpretations.

Five CPTED Principles - a South African Interpretation

Five principles, developed for the South African context, are outlined in the Designing Safer Places manual referred to before. These principles provide guidance when decisions need to be made regarding the planning and design of the physical environment with safety and security in mind. They can be regarded as objectives to be achieved when developing or redeveloping spaces.

The principles relate to the following:

  • Surveillance and visibility.
  • Territoriality.
  • Access and escape routes.
  • Image and aesthetics.
  • Target hardening.

A more detailed description of each principle is provided below.

1. Surveillance and visibility

Objective: Optimise visibility and maximise opportunities for observance of public and private areas by users or residents during the course of their normal activities (passive surveillance) and/or police or other security personnel (active surveillance).

Factors that could play a role include uninterrupted lines of sight, levels and types of lighting, the positioning and nature of windows, doors and other openings, building layout and the distances between buildings, the sizes of the public spaces and the extent, degree and type of use of the space.

Figure 4: The glass lobby increases visibility and the CCTV camera provides additional surveillance.
Figure 5: Mixed activities, layout and the positioning of facilities and windows improve surveillance.


Passive surveillance

Passive surveillance is often referred to as the presence of ‘protective eyes’ or ‘eyes on the street’. The extent of visual contact that people have with a space, together with the degree of their being visible to others, determines the extent to which they can intervene and whether the users feel safe. The zoning of areas of the city and the functionality of buildings are key elements in determining whether protective eyes are present day and night, or not.

Surveillance is improved if there is good visibility. Dark streets, alleys, entrances and doorways can act as havens for potential offenders and increase residents’ and visitors’ fear of crime. The way in which lighting is designed and positioned, and the way roads and paths are laid out can obviate many of these problems and render both the physical environments as well as the users visible to others using the environment.

2. Territoriality

Objective: Encourage a sense of ownership of, and responsibility for, a space by employing mechanisms that will allow residents or users to identify with the space, and experience it as legible.

A sense of ownership and responsibility for a particular environment improves the likelihood of passive observers intervening. Places should be designed and managed in ways that encourage owners/users to take responsibility for them and feel responsible for their use, upkeep and maintenance.

Figure 6: Residents taking ownership of a public area in front of their house. (Photo credit: ARP xiv.)
Figure 7: Plants are used to define public and semi-public spaces.


Well defined spaces

Public, semi-public and private spaces should be well defined, for instance through the use of fences, differences in levels, vegetation and landscaping, surface treatment (e.g. different types of paving), bollards, etc.

3. Access and Escape Routes

Objective: Limit opportunities for offenders to utilise access and escape routes such as vacant land, and enhance the level of ease with which potential victims could find and access escape routes.

Figure 8: This green belt provides easy access and escape routes for offenders.
Figure 9: Once someone has entered this subway, opportunities to escape an offender are limited.


Access and escape routes

Clear signposting of streets, buildings and exit routes are important ways of assisting potential victims. The design of elements such as subways also needs to be considered carefully to reduce perceptions that one will not be able to escape from an offender.

4. Image and aesthetics

Objective: Ensure that the physical appearance of an environment creates a positive image and instils feelings of safety in users.

The image of spaces and facilities can be improved by ensuring human scale in design, using attractive colours and/or materials and providing adequate lighting Effective maintenance of the physical environment and infrastructure is a critical aspect of this principle.

Figure 10: This unkempt area does not create the impression that this is a safe neighbourhood. (Photo credit: ARP xiv.)
Figure 11: This clean area creates a positive image of the neighbourhood. (Photo credit: ARP xiv.)


Urban decay

Urban decay and its resultant degradation make people using these areas feel unsafe. Often this reduces the number of users, which could exacerbate the crime problem. The good design and the effective management of public spaces are necessary to prevent them from becoming actual or perceived ‘hot spots’ for crime. Vacant land that is not maintained, or unoccupied buildings, can both contribute to decay, as do litter and the breakdown of services.

5. Target-hardening

Objective: Reduce the attractiveness or vulnerability of potential targets by physically strengthening them and/or by installing mechanisms that will increase the effort required to commit an offence.

Target-hardening measures are often the first to be considered in response to real criminal events or perceived threats. Perimeter walls or fences, security gates, burglar bars and alarm systems are all mechanisms used to implement this principle.

Figure 12: A fence provides opportunities for surveillance onto and from the street.
Figure 13: High walls reduce opportunities for surveillance.


Target-hardening measures

Care should be taken to ensure that other principles are not compromised when implementing target-hardening interventions. For instance, a solid high wall around a property (target hardening) violates the principle of surveillance and visibility.

Applying the principles

Employing these principles in combination can increase the possibility of reducing crime. Each principle should not be viewed in isolation and the context within which it is to be applied should be taken into account. When applying any one of the principles the implications it has on any of the others must always be considered.

Figure 14: CPTED principles, context and management and maintenance. 

A lack of maintenance of the physical environment and infrastructure could contribute to the creation of opportunities for crime and could be part of the reason why people do not feel safe in certain areas. For instance, if lighting has been provided to reduce crime in a park or along a pedestrian route, a lack of maintenance that results in the lights not working would mean that the intervention will be ineffectual.

A well-maintained environment can contribute to people developing a sense of pride in their neighbourhood and to them taking responsibility for it. This enforces a key CPTED objective, namely to encourage citizens to take ownership of their neighbourhoods.

IV. Implementing CPTED in South Africa

CPTED could play an important part in improving the sustainability of South African cities and townsxv. CPTED initiatives would not only reduce crime in specific local places (micro-level), they could also contribute to the transformation of society in general through changes to the urban form (macro-level). Such macro-level interventions could be aimed at addressing certain spatial characteristics, including:

  • the spatial dislocation of the poor, which results in long and costly commuting patterns and exposes commuters to victimization;
  • the separation of communities and the vacant land (buffer strips) used in the past to divide people, providing many opportunities for criminal activity;
  • the rigid mono-functional zoning of land which leaves some areas deserted at night and others deserted during the day, increasing opportunities for crime;
  • the effective exclusion of many city residents from the amenities and economic opportunities offered by the city.

In order to address these challenges effectively, CPTED needs to be implemented at various levels, involving the following:

  • Planning – physical urban planning approaches at strategic level, such as strategies to promote the reduction of vacant land, encourage mixed land use and support the integration of communities.
  • Design – detailed design of different urban elements, such as the transport system, roads, public open spaces, buildings and the spaces between them.
  • Management – managing the entire urban system and the precincts within it (e.g. infrastructure, maintenance and by- law enforcement), as well as managing and facilitating the implementation of CPTED initiatives.

Community participation is critical for the successful implementation CPTED interventions. A people-driven process developed to encourage community members to participate in identifying environment-related crime problems and in developing appropriate responses is described here.

V. Conclusion

CPTED could play a key role in reducing crime and creating safer communities. However, it should be remembered that CPTED interventions can only address specific types of crime in particular locations. Also, crime prevention measures that have worked in a particular situation may not be as effective under different conditions. It is therefore essential to base the development of responses to crime problems on a thorough understanding of the local context including the crime situation and the characteristics of the physical, social and institutional environments.

CPTED should ideally form part of a broader, integrated crime prevention initiative that involves other approaches, including law enforcement and social crime prevention initiatives. A community-based crime prevention strategy could assist in coordinating such crime prevention interventions. The process to develop a local crime prevention strategy is described in Making South Africa Safe - A Manual for Community-based Crime Preventionxvi.

VI. References

i. Crowe, Tim, (2000). Crime Prevention through Environmental Design, 2nd ed. Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann.

ii. The International CPTED Association (ICA) is an international organisation aimed at promoting the creation of safer environments and at improving the quality of life through the use of CPTED principles and strategies. The ICA supports local organisations, practitioners and communities that utilise CPTED principles to create safer communities and public spaces. (website:

iii. National Planning Commission, (2012). National Development Plan 2030: Our future - make it work. Pretoria: National Planning Commission, Republic of South Africa. 

iv. Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, (2016). Integrated Urban Development Framework. Pretoria: Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Republic of South Africa.

v. Inter-departmental Strategy Team, (1996). National Crime Prevention Strategy. Pretoria: South African Government.

vi. Jeffery, C.R. (1977). Crime Prevention through Environmental Design. Beverly Hills: Sage.

vii. Clarke, R.V. (ed.). (1997). Situational Crime Prevention: Successful Case Studies, 2nd ed. New York: Harrow and Heston.

viii. Brantingham, P. and Brantingham, P. (1991). Environmental Criminology. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveband Press.

ix. Newman, O. (1972). Defensible Space: Crime Prevention through Urban Design. London: Macmillan.

x. Jacobs, J. (1962). The Death and Life of Great American Cities. London: Jonathan Cape.

xi. Tinus Kruger, Karina Landman, and Susan Liebermann, (2001). Designing Safer Places: A Manual for Crime Prevention through Planning and Design. Pretoria: South African Police Service & CSIR.

xii. Civilian Secretariat for Police, (2016). White Paper on Safety and Security. Pretoria: Civilian Secretariat for Police, Republic of South Africa.

xiii. Tinus Kruger and Karina Landman, (2008). Crime and the physical environment in South Africa: Contextualizing international crime prevention experiences. In Built Environment, 34 (1), 75–87. Marcham: Alexandrine Press.

xiv. Photos supplied by the Alexandra Renewal project (ARP).

xv. Gregory Saville and Tinus Kruger, (2012). Designing cities to minimise crime. In Sustainable Cities - Building cities for the future. London, UK: Green Media Ltd.

xvi. Tinus Kruger, Lizette Lancaster, Karina Landman, Susan Liebermann, Antoinette Louw and Rory Robertshaw. (2016). Making South Africa Safe: A Manual for Community-based Crime Prevention (Revision 1). Pretoria: CSIR.