Environmental criminology is the study of the connections between space, place and crime and, in particular, is concerned with the spatial patterning of crime and the spatial distribution of criminality. These foci are rooted in the seemingly unambiguous fact that crime is not randomly distributed but is geographically concentrated in specific places – notably in particular urban areas – and that offenders are similarly concentrated in identifiable urban districts. Environmental criminology takes a positivist approach to the study of crime in that it seeks to use scientific methods to provide descriptive data on the incidence of crime and infer causal factors derived from those data. Environmental criminology has a long history – the attempt to
map crime rates and criminal residence originated in Europe in the nineteenth century under the influence of Adolphe Que´telet in Belgium, Alexander von Oettingen in Germany and, to a lesser extent, Henry Mayhew and Charles Booth in England. In many cases these surveys were not directed primarily towards understanding crime or criminals per se, but were part of larger efforts to achieve social reforms and improve the living conditions of the poor. The most influential and by far the most famous precursor to contemporary environmental criminology was work conducted by the Chicago School of Sociology and, especially, the work of Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay (1942). Shaw and McKay used Ernest Burgess’ ‘zonal model’ of city development when they investigated patterns of residence of juvenile offenders. What their research appeared to show was that the causes of crime lay not in individual factors but in environmental factors. They argued that juveniles did not commit crimes because they were inherently immoral or intellectually inferior to their law-abiding peers. Rather, the causes of their criminality were to be found in the structure and culture of the communities in which they resided. In particular, offenders tended to reside in ‘socially disorganised’ communities characterised by transient populations, competing moral frameworks and an underdeveloped and unstable culture. Such socially disorganised areas – labelled the ‘zone in transition’ in Burgess’ model – tended to be much less affluent than other city zones, but it was not the factor of poverty itself that encouraged crime. Rather, it was the lack of established and durable shared values that underpinned the tendency to criminality characteristic of the socially disorganised community. The ‘social disorganisation’ thesis remained the dominant paradigm
for explaining environmental influences on crime for over a quarter
of a century and was not seriously challenged until the 1970s. Drawing on earlier work by Terence Morris (1957), Baldwin and Bottoms (1976) showed that whilst Shaw and McKay’s work had been important in establishing a link between crime and environment, their particular model did not explain the distribution of crime or criminals in cities generally. The geographical data for Croydon and Sheffield in the UK did not support the thesis that offender residence correlated neatly with the ‘zone in transition’. Instead, Baldwin and Bottoms drew attention to the role of the housing market – they noted that variations in property values and property types correlated positively with variations in offender residence rates (that is, the rate of offenders per head of population). Moreover, there is a difference between offender residence rates and area offence rates (that is, the rate of offences in any given area). Studies have shown that there is remarkable geographical variation in the rates for different kinds of crimes in different areas of cities. Wikstro¨m (1991) looked at data on violence in public, vandalism, vehicle crime, burglary and domestic violence for the city of Stockholm and found that different types of offences were committed in different areas of the city. At the same time, further detailed studies have shown that even within high crime areas for any given offence there is yet more variation – some parts of ‘high crime’ areas have very low levels of crime (see Sherman, 1995). Whilst, to a certain extent only, it remains true that many crimes are committed close to where offenders live (that is, crimes are commonly limited in space) some locations are more, and some less, likely to be the scene of crimes (that is, crimes are encouraged or discouraged by characteristics of place). Not surprisingly, these (and many more) detailed research findings
have persuaded some criminologists to try and expose what it is about the different areas that encourage or discourage different kinds of criminal activity and to ask whether crime can be ‘designed out’ of the urban landscape (see Clarke and Mayhew, 1980). Two kinds of practical effort, in particular, have been developed in the effort to use features of space and place to deter criminal activity. In the first, there has been an increasing willingness to recruit the professional insights of architects and urban planners to the task of crime prevention, inspired, importantly, by Jane Jacobs’ (1961) The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The book drew attention to the association between high crime rates and the soulless design of tower block architecture, the community fragmentation that it engendered, the mono-functional character of the ghetto landscape and the absence of opportunities for pedestrian use of the neighbourhood environment.
Later work by the architect Oscar Newman (1972) drew attention to the ways that urban housing design failed to provide ‘defensible space’ for residents and provided opportunities for offenders to commit crimes undetected. The insights offered by Jacobs, Newman and later scholars were systematised into strategies for crime prevention through environmental design by Tim Crowe (see Crowe, 2000). The strategies included recommendations for increasing a neighbourhood’s capacity for self-surveillance – by ensuring that windows overlook access points, ensuring that alleys and other through-routes are well lit, and supplementing these and other measures with the use of CCTV where appropriate. Other recommendations include paying attention to area entry and exit points to reduce opportunities to escape detection, using natural features (such as thorny bushes under windows) to deter opportunistic entry, encouraging communal use of public spaces (by providing appropriate seating and other amenities) to increase residents’ visible presence. The intention behind these measures is to make the commission of crime more difficult and its detection more likely by using the design of urban housing as a front-line defence against criminal behaviour. The second kind of practical effort has revolved largely around
situational prevention measures designed to ‘harden’ the target of crime or ‘soften’ the motivation to perpetrate it. Situational crime prevention shares environmental criminology’s overall goal of reducing criminal opportunities, but deepens the project by paying attention to a much larger range of situations than neighbourhood design. Situational measures can be grouped loosely under four headings: