The defensible space model of fear and elderly public housing residents

Normoyle, J. B., & Foley, J. M.

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Normoyle, J. B., & Foley, J. M. (1988). The defensible space model of fear and elderly public housing residents. Environment and Behavior, 20(1), 50–74.

Defensible Space , Elderly Residents , Perceptions Of Safety , Public Housing

This study examines elderly public housing residents' fear and perceptions of the local crime problem. Based upon hypotheses proposed in Newman's theory of defensible space (1972), it was predicted that (a) high-rise tenants are more fearful and perceive the crime problem as greater than do tenants of low-rise buildings and (b) the negative effects of the high-rise are reduced when older residents are segregated from younger tenants. The analysis of survey responses by 945 elderly tenants nationwide indicated that building height had a significant effect upon reactions to crime. Unexpectedly, however, fear was lower among high-rise dwellers even though those who were segregated within these buildings assessed the local crime problem as more serious. These effects were not mediated by the incidence of crime on-site nor the elderly's victimization experience. The implications of these findings for the defensible space model of fear are discussed.

Main finding
Defensible space theory proposed by Newman (1972) suggests that high-rise residential tenants would be more fearful of crime and perceive greater prime problems compared to low-rise tenants, and also that fear among elderly high rise tenants could be reduced by segregating elderly tenants from other age groups. However, contrary to these hypotheses, elderly residents in public housing in this study (a) were less fearful of crime in high-rise than low-rise residential buildings and (b) assessed local crime as more serious in segregated (i.e., elderly-only) facilities.

Description of method used in the article
Residents (N = 945) 60 years or older, drawn from a larger sample of 8,440 residents of 42 public housing sites in 15 cities across the United States, completed a survey with primary DVs of (a) fear of crime and (b) perception of crime at their building site. IVs of building height, segregation, group size, victimization, incidence of crime, and background factors, were also recorded. Observations of residential characteristics, such as building height, were recorded by the research team. The survey was the "Citizens' Attitude and Victimization Survey" conducted in the summer of 1981.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories

Crime and Aggression
Field Observations Survey
Environmental Psychology
Physical types
Geographic locations