Creating safe walkable streetscapes: Does house design and upkeep discourage incivilities in suburban neighbourhoods?

Foster, S., Giles-Corti, B., & Knuiman, M.

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Foster, S., Giles-Corti, B., & Knuiman, M. (2011). Creating safe walkable streetscapes: Does house design and upkeep discourage incivilities in suburban neighbourhoods? Journal of Environmental Psychology, 31, 79–88.

Natural Surveillance , Physical Incivilities , Residential Neighborhoods , Walkability

There is growing evidence that residents are more likely to walk in attractive neighbourhoods, and that negative visual cues can deter residents from engaging in physical activity. This study explored the premise that house design and upkeep could inhibit the incidence of physical disorder in suburban streets, thus contributing to a more pleasant walking environment for pedestrians. Street segments (n 1⁄4 443) in new residential developments (n 1⁄4 61) in Perth, Western Australia, were audited for house attributes that facilitate natural surveillance (e.g., porch/verandah) or indicate territoriality (e.g., garden/ lawn upkeep), and physical incivilities. A composite index of street-level house attributes yielded highly significant associations with disorder (trend test p 1⁄4 0.001) and graffiti (trend test p 1⁄4 0.005), signifying that the cumulative effect of several key attributes had greater potential to discourage incivilities in the street than any single characteristic. The findings suggest house design and upkeep may contribute to the creation of safe, inviting streets for pedestrians.

Main finding
This observational study looks for relationships between the aspects of housing design and upkeep in relation to so-called evidence of physical disorder. Results of the study indicate that specific housing attributes ([a] surveillance opportunities such a porch or veranda, or [b] indicators of territoriality/care such as lawn or garden care) are associated with reduced odds of so-called physical incivilities in surrounding streets (i.e., "disorder" and graffiti).

Description of method used in the article
Auditors used the Neighborhood Environmental Safety Tool (NEST), a collection of audit data measures related to features of suburban areas that “might influence incivilities, perceived safety and walking among residents” (p. 80). Three trained assessors used the tool to audit 443 residential segments from 61 residential developments (average 7.26 segments per development, average 12.27 houses per segment). Data was collected in May and June 2007 in recently constructed suburban residential neighborhoods in Perth, Western Australia. Analysis via logistic regression explored the relationship between (a) “disorder” and (b) “graffiti” against the predictor variables of (a) visibility, (b) verandas/porches, (c) low fences, (d) unkempt gardens (reversed), (e) unkempt lawns (reversed), and (f) vacant lots (reversed). Data for this portion of the study is entirely from observation data; no surveys or human participants data are included.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories

Walking or Rolling
Spatial Methods
Physical types
Geographic locations