NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Does "New Urban" Design Promote Crime?

January 19, 2004

"New Urbanists" claim their neighborhood development concepts reduce crime by maximizing public areas and walking paths. But according to Randal O'Toole of the Thoreau Institute and Reason Foundation, these designs actually promote crime.

For decades, English police have promoted a program called "Secured by Design," which encourages architectural design that assists police in reducing crime. In comparing two same-size neighborhoods modeled after each of these development concepts, the Bedfordshire Police Department discovered that:

  • New Urban developments require three times more police resources than Secured by Design developments, yet they still report five times more crime and theft losses than Secured by Design developments.
  • New Urban neighborhoods average about 5,200 crime and disorder incidents per year, while Secured by Design neighborhoods average around 1,800 crime and disorder incidents per year.
  • A 10 percent increase in subsidized housing in a New Urban development increases crime by roughly 40 percent, while the same increase in a Secured by Design neighborhood increases crime by only 12 percent.

Proponents of New Urban neighborhoods claim they promote more "eyes on the street" by eliminating cul-de-sacs, promoting greater common areas and more pedestrian-friendly streets. However, this design hinders police patrols by restricting vehicular access to certain areas and providing less incentive for residents to assist in protecting common areas. Secured by Design helps police by providing cul-de-sacs to discourage criminal escapes, promoting private property (which individuals will more likely protect), and building parking lots in prominent areas that are easy for police to keep watch over.

Sources: Randal O'Toole, "New Urbanism Promotes Crime," Thoreau Institute and Reason Foundation; Peter Knowles, "Designing Out Crime - The Cost of Policing New Urbanism," Operation Scorpion, Bedfordshire Police.


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