The defensible space theory for creating safe urban neighborhoods: Perceptions and design implications in the United States and South Korea

Kim, S.-K., Lee, Y. M., & Lee, E.

Kim, S.-K., Lee, Y. M., & Lee, E. (2013). The defensible space theory for creating safe urban neighborhoods: Perceptions and design implications in the United States and South Korea. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, 30(3), 181–196.

Safety from crime in multifamily housing environments, where residents usually share hallways, common outdoor facilities, and parking spaces, has been a subject of research for decades. Strategies and tactics employed to enhance the safety of these environments may differ depending on residents' characteristics. This study explored residents' perceived and actual safety in multifamily environments in the United States and South Korea, as well as significant environmental variables. Using Newman's defensible space theory as the primary theoretical framework, we focused on how perceived safety in public and semipublic spaces relates to overall perceptions of safety in residential environments. We also examined crime experience in these environments and verified significant demographic and socioeconomic variables associated with residents' perceptions of safety. Data were collected from site visits and questionnaires administered to residents living in multifamily environments. The level of residents' safety perceptions differed between the two groups of residents. However, both groups exhibited strong correlations between perceived safety from crime in their communities and perceived safety in public spaces, such as recreational areas and parking lots, and semipublic spaces, such as building entrances and the vicinity. These findings underscore strong relationships among residents' perceptions of safety in different outdoor spaces, which the defensible space theory also supports. Based on these findings, we suggest ideas to improve residents' actual safety and perceptions of safety from crime.

Main finding
Overall, social interaction and length of residence were positively related, and age inversely related, to general perceptions of safety. Men were also more likely to feel safe. Residents in Gwacheon lived in their neighborhoods longer, had more frequent social interactions, and perceived their neighborhood as being more safe than residents in Houston. Residents in both locations were more likely to feel safe in their home when they also felt safe in public and semi-public spaces. Perceived safety in recreational spaces in Gwacheon, and in parking lots in Houston, was significantly correlated with increased perceptions of safety in the home. To improve overall perceived safety in residential environments, the authors suggest improving visual and physical accessibility for recreation facilities and providing adequate lighting in public spaces.

Description of method used in the article
The authors used maps and observations to survey the physical characteristics of the examined properties, noting age, size, density, height, parking, and outdoor space. They created a questionnaire to examine residents' demographic information, perceptions of safety, and experience with crime. They used statistical methods to test the relationships between perceptions of safety in public and semipublic spaces, and between perceived safety at home and in specific types of outdoor spaces.

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