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Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)

Updated: Aug 10

A case study by Marie Coppens

Image source : Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

The murder of Sarah Everard in south London sparked an international debate about gender-based violence. This lead to demonstrative actions of the “reclaim the streets” movement, a collective asking for more safety in public spaces, especially at night. This seems a justified claim since the crime statistics of femicides happening in urban areas across Europe do not seem to be tempered. Numerous commemorative vigils were held to acknowledge the problem of sexual intimidation and violence targeted people experience every day all over the world. In the aftermath such incidents, the same question arises every time: what can be done to prevent this from ever happening again?

Every time, this demand for change is getting louder.

These protests also reach Brussels, where substantial efforts in pursuance of women’s safety have yet to be achieved.[1] Structural action and initiatives from policy makers and stakeholders must pave the way towards more safety and inclusion in the capital of Belgium. Luckily, there is support through insights from scientific research, with multidisciplinary solutions that have been proven to reduce crime rates.

One of the subjects policy makers can make a difference in, and which is fully supported by the vision of Women In Urbanism, is anticipation of predatory crime through urban design. All big capitals in the EU, have been designed in a time where mostly men in charge did not take women’s and safety into account and based their architecture to foster economic growth. Architectural changes in streets, parking areas, or city squares have been proven to improve safety for all genders, according to international findings.[2] By looking at different exemplary innovations in different countries as a response to sexual crime, we can gain knowledge about gender-neutral city design.

Mapping harassment

Pinpointing the locations where sexual harassment has taken place is a way to know where the city’s weak spots are that are prone to gender-based sexual violence.

Image source: Harassmap

In order to gain knowledge about the locations around the city that are structurally linked to sexual violence, the city of Cairo launched Harassmap, a platform where victims are free to pinpoint the locations where harassment - in every sense of the word - has taken place. This interactive heatmap, accompanied by the nature and exact date of the incident, shows the weak spots of a certain area and is accessible for the public. This can be a useful tool for both policy makers to prioritize security in certain areas, as for people wanting information about dangerous public locations.

A similar digital initiative is already operational in Brussels, namely the multiregional "Safer Cities For Girls" project, [3] which is already active in 16 cities. This is a digital anonymous forum where people can report cases of sexual harassment and details about the location and whether or not the victim got helped by a third party. This European commission-funded project does not display an interactive map like Harassmap, but is visible to policy makers only. However, this project is, in any case, innovative and is already on its way to increase transparency.

Increase surveillance effect in municipalities

Image source: Leon Natal/ Getty Images

Pedestrians should be aware that they are being watched permanently when walking on the sidewalk. This is why the city of Birmingham, UK, introduced the guideline to place buildings front-faced towards the street in its city design.[4] Through the purposeful placement of balconies, windows, doors and entrances pointed towards a public space area, people gain more confidence and a feeling of safety on these streets. Moreover, according to research of the University of Sheffield,[5] further action can be made by improving street lighting on dark parts of the pavements and erasing “blind spots” like excessive vegetation to avoid hiding places of possible aggressors.[6]

Presence of social life on the streets and the effect of natural surveillance

Image source: Fotovoyager

Of course, offenses against women also happen during the daytime, so measurements by increasing street lights alone won’t increase street safety. By the sole presence of residents, local vendors, restaurants, cafes or hotels, women and other targeted groups feel more secure, whereas people tend to feel unsafe in more abandoned places.

Therefore, in order to facilitate more safety, social businesses should be stimulated by the city council to locate themself to the centres, which is in line with the social inclusivity guideline of the UN sustainable development goals.[7] By increasing the city’s social life, people feel strengthened by the feeling of this “natural surveillance effect”.[8]

Concluding remarks

City design is one of many ways to safeguard the streets and make all women, as well as other groups like ethnic minorities or queers, feel welcome in Brussels. These methods are proven to be effective and citizen’s safety measures transcends cost-benefit claims. Just like that, Brussels can make big steps on security and urban safety.


People’s safety is a basic right for all, and can only enhance the image of the city. However, we should be aware that gender-neutral street design mostly fights crime symptoms, and does not structurally tackle the problem of gender violence in general. There is still a long road ahead to fight against street violence and to speak of a sustainable change.

Links to original research articles

[1] The Brussels Times. Brussels’ Women’s Day march tainted by police violence reports. Retrieved from [2] Fadhila, S., Lukito, N. Y. (2020). Surveillance and Architecture, Analyzing the Idea of Eyes on 132-137. Doi 10.5109/2740980 [3] Plan International. (n.d.). [Article about Safer Cities program]. Retrieved October 09, 2020 from [4] Design Council. (n.d.). Creating safe places to live through design. Retrieved October 09, 2020 from [5] The Conversation. (September, 28, 2018). The science of street lights: what makes people feel safe at night. Retrieved from Fotios, S. A., Robbins, C. J., & Farall, S. (2014). Road lighting and pedestrian reassurance after dark: A review. Lighting Research and Technology, 47, 449-469. doi: 10.1177/1477153514524587 [6] Rahm, J., Sternudd, C., & Johansson, M. (2020). In the evening, I don’t walk in the park”: The interplay between street lighting and greenery in perceived safety. Urban Design International, 26. 42-52. doi:10.1057/s41289-020-00134-6. [7] United Nations. (n.d.). Sustainable Development Goals – Goal 11/ Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Retrieved from [8] Goodman Group. (2017). A Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) Assessment Report. Retrieved from

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