The 5 Pillars of CPTED: Activity Support
In a perfect world, there would always be someone watching over you. A family member, friend, neighbor, or even stranger. If you’re fortunate to have the means, perhaps even a paid professional.
An extra set of eyes on your property and loved ones—or better yet, multiple sets—provides some peace of mind when you can’t do it yourself. Becoming the victim of a crime can have physical, mental, and emotional consequences, to say nothing of the financial cost. The average loss from a burglary at home was $7,937 in 2020. It was even more for a non-residence like an office at $9,779.
That’s no small amount. All told, property crimes resulted in losses of roughly $15.8 billion in 2019. Property crime—including larceny, burglary, motor vehicle theft, and arson—occurs every 3 seconds in the United States. That’s more than 7x more frequent than violent crime.
A house is more than just a building. It’s your retreat. Your safety zone. Your home.
A business is more than just your livelihood. It’s an accomplishment. A legacy. A contribution.
Neither is “just” property. And both deserve to be protected accordingly.
Video surveillance is a good start. Properties without a visible security system are a whopping 300% more likely to be burglarized. But there’s so much more you could do to lower your risk and increase your protection.
One such strategy is crime prevention through environmental design, or CPTED.
The Pillars of CPTED
CPTED is a series of tactics built around five interlocking pillars that make not just your property but entire neighborhoods safer for everyone. It’s not a single idea or suggestion. The central principles include:
CPTED involves deliberate design choices for a given space—a single property, block, or entire neighborhood—that function as a single organism to discourage criminal behavior before it happens.
Crime wants to operate in dark corners, away from prying eyes. One of the best ways to fight it is to light it up (literally and figuratively) while increasing the number of eyes on it.
And activity support does just that.
Activity support is meant to assist and strengthen the other pillars, especially natural surveillance, natural access control, and territorial reinforcement. In a nutshell, it means creating an environment that encourages legitimate use by legitimate users, which then increases the risk of detection for criminals.
Many eyes on the street.
“The sidewalk must have users on it fairly continuously, both to add to the number of effective eyes on the street and to induce the people in buildings along the street to watch the sidewalks in sufficient numbers. Nobody enjoys sitting on a stoop or looking out a window at an empty street. Almost nobody does such a thing. Large numbers of people entertain themselves, off and on, by watching street activity.” ~Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Activity Support in the Real World
Let’s use the example of a neighborhood park.
A park with a grassy area that is cut every week or two, playground equipment that receives regular maintenance, picnic tables, and adequate lighting will encourage and attract nearby residents. Children will play there. Families will enjoy picnics. Older kids will make use of the basketball net after dark.
But a park left to become overgrown and weed-infested with broken equipment and burnt-out lights will sit empty and dark. It will eventually start attracting people who use it for drugs, drinking, or other inappropriate activities. The homes on the perimeter will be at greater risk of property crime simply by their proximity to the area.
So, which park would you rather live beside?
Every space, every area, every property has an intended use, and it must be designed and maintained to encourage that use. If not, illegitimate users will inevitably repurpose it for illegitimate activities.
Strategies to Implement
Ways to promote legitimate use include:
- Adequate street lighting
- Nighttime lighting for parks, playgrounds, tennis courts, basketball courts, soccer fields, and baseball diamonds
- Strategically placed benches to motivate residents to sit and chat or people watch
- Well-lit bike and walking paths
- Timely repairs to broken equipment and replacement of burnt-out light bulbs
- Removal of graffiti to present a vibrant, cared-for space
- Formal organization of sports leagues
- Beautification and clean-up campaigns
- Weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly activities for the whole neighborhood, such as a block party, yoga in the park, friendly one-on-one tournament, Easter egg hunt, Christmas market, family day, bake sale, swap meet, fireworks, and so on
- Community garden(s)
- Farmer’s market
- Signage designating proper usage
- Posted hours for using the park, court, field, or playground
The more people out and about at any given time, the higher the chance of seeing or catching a criminal.
Reaping the Benefits
Proper activity support ensures a good balance and steady stream of people during the day and into the evening. Neighborhood events not only get people out using space for legitimate reasons but also generate the opportunity for residents to get to know one another on a personal level.
This then increases the sense of community, pride in the neighborhood, a feeling of safety within, and a willingness to watch out for each other. You’re much more likely to question someone lingering at the side of Dylan’s house than if he was just the nameless guy across the street from you.
Activity support gets more people out. More people out means more eyes on the area. And more eyes means more natural surveillance. The system feeds itself and helps keep everyone safe, secure, and protected.
Either a space gets used for its intended purpose, or it gets appropriated for illegitimate if not criminal ones.
Give the space the resources and support it needs to keep it the former and never the latter.