Resident appropriation of defensible space in public housing: Implications for safety and community

Brunson, L., Kuo, F. E., & Sullivan, W. C.

Brunson, L., Kuo, F. E., & Sullivan, W. C. (2001). Resident appropriation of defensible space in public housing: Implications for safety and community. Environment and Behavior, 33(5), 626–652.

Defensible Space , Perceptions Of Safety , Physical Appropriation , Public Housing , Social Appropriation , Territorial Appropriation

Defensible space (DS) theory proposes that the built environment can promote neighborhood safety and community by encouraging residents’ appropriation of near-home space. This article examined the relationship between three differ- ent forms of resident appropriation and residents’ experiences of neighborhood safety and community. Results from a survey of 91 public housing residents living in moderately defensible spaces suggested that residents who defended near-home space through territorial appropriation experienced the neighborhood as a safer, more cohesive community than did residents who did not appropriate space in this way. Residents who spent more time outside experienced the neighborhood as a safer place; however, casual social interaction in near-home space was not consistently related to outcomes. While no causal information is available from the correlational data presented here, this work takes an important step of providing empirical evidence of a systematic link between certain aspects of resident appropriation and positive outcomes. Implications for DS theory and for public housing policy are discussed.

Main finding
Defensible space theory draws links between built environment characteristics (such as appropriation of near-home spaces) and neighborhood safety and community. This study looks at relationships between public housing residents' self-reported perceived neighborhood safety in relation to (a) territorial appropriation (e.g., caretaking, monitoring activities, etc.) and (b) physical appropriation (e.g., frequent use of neighborhood space). Residents who "defended near-home space" through territorial appropriation experienced the surrounding neighborhood as (a) safer and (b) more cohesive, and residents who reported greater physical appropriation of near-home space experienced greater perceived safety, but not greater neighborhood cohesion.

Description of method used in the article
Structured interviews with low-income, African American residents (N = 91) drawn from 18 buildings of one public housing development in Chicago. Interview questions relate to (a) resident appropriation of near-home spaces (physical, social, and territorial), (b) near-home safety, (c) community cohesiveness, and (d) demographics. Door-to-door recruitment was conducted by an African American female public housing resident who did not live in the development.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories

Crime and Aggression
Physical types
Geographic locations