Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design

In a Nutshell

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design is the physical surroundings that deter criminal activity and keep neighborhoods safer and more enjoyable to live. CPTED promotes security through visibility and social interaction through surveillance, access control, property maintenance, and territorial reinforcement. Law enforcement officers, architects, planners, landscape and interior designers, and residents should be included in the environmental design process to prevent crime and create positive communities.

Practical Solution

The “How To”The “How To”

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design provides strategies for communities, residents, businesses, schools, and local governments to follow to deter crime. Some techniques will alter the built environment to deter crime with the placement of walkways, parks, trees, and windows. This type of civic engagement will encourage neighbors to know neighbors, and should place “eyes on the street.” The visibility notion of “eyes on the street” comes from Jane Jacobs’s classic planning book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Three theme emerge:

  • A clear separation between public and private
  • Natural proprietors of the street can handle strangers to insure the safety of all people. Those people cannot turn their backs on the street.
  • Sidewalks must be busy with people.

Aspects of CPTED follow Oscar Newman’s Defensible Space. Defensible Space states “Subdivide large portions of public spaces and assign them to individuals and small groups to use and control as their own private spaces. If people take ownership of their territory and their neighborhoods, criminals are ineffective.” In a nutshell, criminals have less turf to vandalize when more property owners take ownership and use their property.

Along with “Eyes on the Street” and “Defensible Spaces,” CPTED addresses the following techniques:  access control, property maintenance, surveillance, and territorial reinforcement.

Access Control

Access control should control the flow of the public to reduce opportunities for offending. Access Control should separate between public and private space. Entry for private access should be limited to give fewer chances for delinquent behavior. Separation does not necessarily require 6-foot fences. This could be in the form of climbing, thorny plants barriers, or a single, clearly identifiable point of entry. Design should restrict the public access to roof tops and first and second story windows.


Individuals engaged in an activity become part of the surveillance system. Neighborhoods should carry the perception that people can be seen. Neighborhood design should encourage social interaction. Community gardens are perfect ways to increase outdoor activity while placing more people outside to watch over ones community. Bicycle and pedestrian paths may also place more people on the street, increasing the neighborhood feel.

When developers and architects design communities, they should be encouraged by local ordinances to keep public spaces in visible range. Windows should overlook sidewalks, green spaces, and parking lots. Areas should be illuminated for visibility as well.

Territorial Reinforcement

Territorial Reinforcement creates a sense of ownership in the neighborhood and on private property. Improving the landscape of a particular area can help. OneSTL Home Gardens and Native Landscaping may assist in improving properties. The tool Urban and Community Forestry Management and Riparian Buffers may provide assistant when planning for vast public wilderness spaces. 

Property Maintenance

Routine maintenance of neighborhoods and surrounding areas fosters a positive image, respect, and responsibility that the residents care about the community. The Broken Window Theory reinforces this notion that property maintenance deters crime. Residents and businesses should repair damages to their property such as windows, doors, mailboxes, fences. They should pick up trash regularly. Also keeping the lawn up to code helps as well. OneSTL provides the Home Improvement Guide to help with property maintenance.

Planning & ZoningPlanning & Zoning

Orient Buildings and individual residential entries to public sidewalks, visible courtyards, street-facing terraces, and open spaces at the front and sides of structures. The City Overland Park in Kansas City has site layout guidelines and standards for multi-family developments. Many call for cluster design and to locate around a common open space. Page 23-24 of the Overland Park Multi-Family Residential Design Guidelines and Standards provide additional information.  

Rationale for the City of Sacramento, California’s multi-family residential design guidelines promotes “eyes on the street”, a sense of security for pedestrians and increased security for residents. Also, the city provides building orientation such as large windows, porches, balconies, and entryways along the street. 

San Diego Southeastern Economic Development Corporation provides guidelines to reduce crime. Chapter 6: Landscape Design encourages the use of plants to provide definition and identity to certain areas that separate public and private space. Vines and climbing plants on buildings are both attractive and minimize graffiti. 

The OneSTL Tool Kit may provide additional information about the zoning and ordinance requirements for municipalities for home gardens and community gardens.

Rental licensing Programs require owners of rental units to undergo registration and inspection once a year. Ensuring up to code units should strengthen community properties. Also neighborhoods should maintain better values

Dollars & CentsDollars & Cents

Residents may use home improvement loan programs may help repair homes, replace windows, and improve the neighborhood. Many programs provide up to $5,000 for repairs and upgrades. View the home improvement loan program OneSTL tool kit for more information.

To better prevent crime through property maintenance, states and local governments may apply for community development block grants. States enrolled in the CDBG Program award grants to local governments that carry out community development. The Neighborhood Stabilization Program is a type of CDBG to help communities that are suffering from foreclosures and abandonment. Homes must be occupied for the homeowner to fix that broken window.

Measuring SuccessMeasuring Success

Qualitative data can answer a communities and individual households feelings on whether their communities feel safer or not from crime. Local businesses may be viewed as more attractive to customers and employees. Neighborhood vibrancy can indicate safer communities as well.  

To measure the success of a CPTED, law enforcement and municipal leadership can compare crime statistics on a yearly basis. Fewer instances of crime can determine whether a design code is effective or not. Communities and local government can note usage of their parks, community gardens and public spaces. Learn more about the benefits of CPTED.

Discover MoreDiscover More

The American Planning Association has provided a policy guide on security. Under their guide on security, they introduce the book SafeScape: Creating Safer, More Livable Communities Through Planning and Design. SafeScape: Creating Safer, More Livable Communities Through Planning and Design present principles for designing safer and observant environments. SafeScape provides examples that contribute to lively, livable and walkable places. Building community is a main aspect of lessons learned. 

Universities and institutions can play a major role in crime prevention through environmental design. Universities and institutions can enroll in Employer Assisted Housing programs, which reinvests in the stabilization of the neighborhoods surrounding employers. EAH community revitalization can increase territorial reinforcement by creating a new sense of community.

The Seattle Police Department gives their tips and identifies elements that may have the potential to attract crime. Their website shows an example of a gate that controls access that still allows visibility.  

The National Institute of Crime Prevention offers CPD or Crime Prevention Through Education Design Professional Designation. A person must complete 64 hours of CPTED courses offered through NICP. Some topics include terror mitigation, site plan review, parks, public art, lighting, planning & zoning, and more. There is also a CPTED have workshops through Neighborhood Progress

CPTED workshops and training are available through the National Crime Prevention Council. Advanced CPTED Training is available to learn and implement greater comprehensive strategies for access control, property maintenance, and surveillance. School CPTED Training is available as well for law enforcement, school administrators, staff, teachers, parents, students, and designers.