Toward a Methodology for Measuring the Security of Publicly Accessible Spaces

Jeremy Németh & Stephan Schmidt

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Németh, J. & Schmidt, S. (1). Toward a Methodology for Measuring the Security of Publicly Accessible Spaces. Journal of the American Planning Association, 73(3), 283–297.

Safety and security are essential components of urban public space management, particularly since September 11, 2001. Although security is necessary for creating spaces the public will use, making it a top priority is often criticized for restricting social interaction, constraining individual liberties, and unjustly excluding certain populations. This study examines legal, design, and policy tools used to exert social and behavioral control in publicly accessible urban spaces. Based on a review of the relevant literature and extensive site visits to spaces in New York City, we create an index that uses 20 separate indicators in four broad categories to quantify the degree to which the use of a space is controlled. Since comparable instruments do not exist, we propose our index be used to evaluate publicly accessible spaces. We suggest several potential applications useful in planning practice and for testing theories about public space.

Main finding
This article proposes a comprehensive methodological tool to allow researchers, city officials, and citizens to empirically evaluate the degree of control exerted over users of publicly accessible spaces. The index groups spatial management techiques into four approaches - Laws and Rules, Surveillance and Policing, Design and Image, Access and Territoriality - based on control (hard/active or soft/passive) The index utilizes 20 variables divided into 10 variables indicating control of users and 10 variables indicating free use of the space, each of which represents a possible strategy for securing space. The feasibility of the security index was tested in the 12 busiest parks and plazas in central midtown Manhattan.

Description of method used in the article
Site visits to 171 publicly accessible spaces in midtown Manhattan (New York City), including public parks, playgrounds, and recreation facilities as well as privately owned but publicly accessible spaces followed by operational definition and scoring criteria 20 variables for the index, grouped based on spatial management approach and degree of control of users.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Crime and Aggression
Physical types
Geographic locations