The SAFE Design Standard® emerges from established social science and design scholarship – in particular research specific to crime reduction through design. Criminologists understand that crime patterns exist based on the convergence of human and environmental interactions. For centuries, researchers have tried to understand how location influences crime, why crime tends to cluster in certain geographic areas, and how the physical and social characteristics of an environment alter the potential for crime to occur. From this research emerges the notion of crime reduction through design, also known as crime prevention through environmental design or design out crime. This concept is grounded on the understanding that human behavior is in part influenced by a person’s environment, and hence the likelihood criminal and aberrant behavior can be mitigated through the design and engineering of a built environment. To this end, the focus of crime reduction through design acknowledges that much research and theory has demonstrated the applicability of using geography in the analysis of criminal events.

Central to the SAFE Design Standard® is the understanding that criminological research and theory alone cannot fully inform crime reduction through design efforts. Such efforts require a multidisciplinary perspective inclusive of both social science and design scholarship. By approaching crime reduction through design from a multidisciplinary perspective, planners, landscape architects, architects, engineers, and others involved in the design and development of built environments are able to create more secure buildings and sites that stand to be more desirable places in which to live, learn, work, and play. Likewise, practitioners who incorporate crime reduction through design in their projects will help promote safer and more livable communities.

Throughout human history, design has played a central role in achieving physical security. From the use of rudimentary fencing to the more elaborate ramparts, moats, towers, and gates, builders have for centuries used design as a key aspect in safeguarding sites, towns, and cities against intrusion or attack. Informing the design of many ancient fortifications is the notion of defense-in-depth. Defense-in-depth is a term coined by military strategist and scholar Edward Luttwak to describe the Roman Army’s military strategy of neutralizing foreign threats before they breached the imperial frontier by establishing military garrisons at strategic points beyond the length of the Roman border. Many ancient European, Asian, and Middle Eastern fortress and castle builders also employed defense-in-depth by incorporating layers of defensive walls, moats, drawbridges, gates, and towers to prevent the advance of an invading force.

Today, the notion of defense-in-depth is applied to the layered security of critical infrastructure (most notably nuclear power facilities), computer networks and information security, fire prevention, and civil engineering. In contemporary non-military applications, defense-in-depth involves an emphasis on:

  1. evidence-based prevention strategies and processes (i.e., fire codes that inform the materials used in construction, as well as the requirement for fire evacuation plans, alarms and extinguishers),

  2. redundancy of critical systems (i.e., emergency power-generators for hospitals, airports and other facilities where constant electric power it critical), and

  3. strategically layered security systems (i.e., airport security officers monitoring exterior video surveillance cameras, patrolling a terminal, screening passengers entering the restricted departures area, and using various design and security technological systems to supplement and support human security efforts).

The SAFE Design Standard® also incorporates the notion of defense-in-depth by encouraging a layered approach to physical security that promotes increased natural surveillance.

Classical Social Science Influences: Choice Perspectives



In a similar fashion to how defense-in-depth helped informed the design of castles and fortresses, classical political and social inquiry has significantly influenced how modern government, law, and civil society have evolved. John Locke’s (1632-1704) social contract theory, followed by Cesare Beccaria’s (1738-1792) rational choice model and Jeremy Bentham’s (1748-1832) notion of utilitarianism, all contribute to the philosophic foundation on which modern political, justice, and governmental systems are based. Locke’s social contract theory hypothesizes that to achieve community peace, civil society must supersede state power, resulting in the society creating order and granting legitimacy to the state. Likewise, Beccaria and Bentham’s shared perspective on rational choice serves as the foundation upon which most modern systems of justice are established – as well as the contemporary study of environmental criminology.

The basic premise of rational choice assumes that people are rational in their behavior and make choices based on the weighing of their potential losses versus their potential gains.  As a result of the social contract, individual actors understand right versus wrong, and violations of the social contract should result in a punishment that fits the crime. Locke believed punishment should be meted out to prevent criminal offences, deter future offending, and most importantly, support an individual’s right to life, liberty, and property. Because potential offenders weigh the pros and cons of committing a particular offence, society – and in turn the law – need to make the option of committing a crime unpalatable to potential lawbreakers. Traditional environmental criminology – and in part the SAFE Design Standard® – draw on the idea that potential lawbreakers make their decisions based on their rational beliefs of the world, and that efforts to prevent crime should promote the right to life, liberty, and property.

Classical Social Science Influences: Structural Perspectives

Following Locke, Beccaria, and Benthem, the work of sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) also served as an integral influence in the development of modern government, law, and society. Durkheim maintained that modern society and the expansion of urban areas brought many different types of people together that often did not share similar views. The communities they created depended on community cohesion, or finding common ground, in order to maintain order. Community members needed to find consensus to facilitate a sense of community cohesion. Without community, Durkheim maintained that chaos would ensue. Overall, in the absence of creating dynamic density (a sense of community), society falls into a state of anomie, or normlessness, which would negatively impact society and result in many asocial responses (such as crime). Echoing Durkheim’s belief, the SAFE Design Council also supports the concept that community cohesion is a critical element in achieving healthy and safe communities, and that functional, as well as aesthetically desirable, built environments result in stronger social bonds.

In 1921, drawing upon the notions of the struggle for existence in ecology and disorganized social conditions from Durkheim’s concept of anomie, Robert Park and Ernest W. Burgess (Chicago School) introduced the term “human ecology” – representing the application of ecology theories to the study of human communities.  Specifically, Park and Burgess devised the concentric-zone theory in their publication titled The City. Concentric-zone theory established how behavior could be spatially replicated. Such spatial replication illustrated how crime can increase in certain areas, owing to the physical and social areas being less defined – a factor resulting in higher proportions of transitional populations, higher divorce rates, and housing that is generally not well maintained. Although the zone perspective of this theory is no longer discussed as a result of the evolution of modern cities, it remains an excellent demonstration of the possibilities inherent in patterning behavior based on a set of community characteristics. The multi-scale contextual risk analysis used in the SAFE Design Standard® methodology, in many ways reflects the importance of patterning behavior based on a community characteristics, and uses this information to achieve more comprehensive building and site assessments.

Linked to both Durkheim’s notion of anomie and Park and Burgess’ social ecology, is Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay’s 1942 social disorganization theory. Socially disorganization flourished in communities experiencing rapid migration, rapid industrialization and growth, substantial turnover of population, and low rent housing. This was a focus on the conditions of the environment – the problematic areas were considered transitional zones, where poverty levels were high. Despite the social and cultural changes modern cities have undergone – such as higher levels of heterogeneity, more social mobility and a much more technologically savvy and connected population – the notion of social disorganization has remained prominent in the study of criminology and is reflected in the SAFE Design Standard®. As evident from contemporary research that finds crime rates continue to correspond to neighborhood structure, and that crime continues to be a normal response to adverse living conditions in urban areas – the notion of social disorganization remains just as relevant today as it did in the past.

As identified, the notion that environment impacts crime is not new. However, it was not until the late 1970s when Paul and Patricia Brantingham established the sub-discipline of criminology at Simon Fraser University, that this area of inquiry became more formally recognized. Environmental criminology involves the study of crime, criminality, and victimization as they relate to particular environments. Central to the study of environmental criminology is the understanding that environment influences behavior within a geo-spatial context. Environmental criminologists study the relationships between space (geography), time, law, offender and targets or victims – viewing these components as integral parts in the formulation of a criminal event. By examining the time and place context of a criminal event, environmental criminologists are able to estimate how changes to the built environment, landscape, urban design and the daily activities and movements of people can reduce the likelihood of crimes from occurring.

A key contemporary theory within the study of environmental criminology is Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson’s 1979 routine activity theory. Routine activity theory constitutes a macro-level approach (with micro-level elements) for understanding crime in a geospatial perspective. This theory is based on the rational choice model, and was originally an approach to the study of larger trends and patterns of crime within a geographic and time context. The theory posits that the potential for a crime to occur is based on the convergence of three criteria:

  1. a motivated offender,

  2. a suitable target, and

  3. a lack of capable guardianship.

A criminal act does not result simply from the presence of a criminally predisposed individual, rather the conditions for a crime to occur must be aligned in terms of situational factors – such as the availability of a vulnerable target and an appropriate opportunity.

Cohen and Felson noted that changes in routine activity patterns influence crime rates by affecting the convergence in space and time. Despite the theory falling short in addressing certain aspects associated with drive and motivation – or the types of choices motivated offenders make – it nonetheless is consistently used in criminological research and is a significant underpinning for many environmental crime reduction strategies such as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), and in part, the SAFE Design Standard®.

Emerging from environmental criminology comes the study of geography of crime. Geography of crime examines the spatial-temporal patterns that are produced during social interactions within a space, time, and crime context. Geography of crime is very much rooted in the mid-1800s work of Lambert Quetelet (1796-1874) and Andre-Michel Guerry (1802-1866), who first examined and mapped crime patterns from a spatial-temporal perspective for provinces in France. Today, geography of crime is a critical aspect of crime analysis – providing new insight into the behavioral and social implications geography can have on crime. Both the multi-scale contextual risk analysis and building/site assessment process used in the SAFE Design Standard® reflect the scholarship surrounding geography of crime.

Developed independently, yet during the same period as environmental criminology and geography of crime, is James Q. Wilson and George Kelling’s broken windows theory. Introduced in the March 1982 edition of The Atlantic, broken windows theory suggests that if a broken window is not repaired in a timely manner, other windows will eventually be broken, causing and symbolizing a sense of public apathy and community disorder to develop – ultimately attracting criminals to the area. This theory holds that vandals will repeatedly target buildings in a state of physical disorder, and the only way to prevent further decline is to rapidly repair and improve decaying properties. Community disorder causes a breakdown in local social control, ultimately resulting in crime escalation. Unless caught early and fully addressed, social control will continue to erode and incidence of crime will increase. At its core, the broken windows theory predicts that disorder is a fundamental precursor to serious crime. Drawing directly from this theory, the SAFE Design Standard® emphasizes the importance building and site maintenance play in effectively reducing crime. Ultimately, when a building or site is well maintained, the likelihood of crime decreases.

Contemporary Social Science Influences: Environmental Criminology

In his 1960 book The Image of the City and 1984 book A Theory of Good City Form, Kevin Lynch theorized that when users of an environment understand their surroundings in consistent and predictable ways, they form mental maps consisting of:

  1. paths (streets, sidewalks, trails…),

  2. edges (boundaries such as walls, buildings and shorelines),

  3. districts (sections of the city distinguished by some identity or character),

  4. nodes (focal points, intersections or loci), and

  5. landmarks (readily identifiable objects which serve as reference points).

Coining the terms ‘imageability’ and ‘wayfinding’ – a commonly used term in the study of environmental criminology – Lynch suggested that good city form is achieved when an urban community exhibits:

  1. vitality (the degree to which the form of a place supports the vital functions, requirements and capabilities of human beings),

  2. safety (how well hazards are controlled and where the fear of encountering them is low),

  3. sense (the clarity with which a place is perceived, and the match between environment, sensory and mental capabilities, and cultural constructions),

  4. fit (how well the spatial pattern matches the customary behavior of its users),

  5. access (the ability to  reach other persons, activities, resources, services, information or places), and

  6. control (the degree to which the use and access to spaces and activities, and  their creation, repair, modification, and management are controlled by those who use, work, or reside in them).

Lynch’s work plays a central role in informing how the SAFE Design Standard® supports the defining of a property’s boundaries, as well as the importance of coherent and effective wayfinding.

In her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) introduced the concepts of ‘mixed primary use’ and ‘eyes on the street’ for the planning and developing of modern urban centers. Jacobs advocated that four generators of diversity are needed to create more livable and prosperous urban communities, namely:

  1. mixed primary use within buildings and the immediate community (commercial, industrial and residential),

  2. shorter city blocks,

  3. diversity of building age and style, and

  4. ‘density well done’ – also known as functional urban planning for concentrated population centers.

She believed that a city’s sidewalk life alone could improve community safety and security by causing strangers to more frequently interact – ultimately leading to greater tolerance and understanding among urban residents. As addressed by Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), as well as in the SAFE Design Standard®, Jacobs’ view that mixed-use communities encourage territoriality and the legitimate use of urban environments, and her notion of ‘eyes on the street’, reinforce the understanding that increased natural surveillance plays a key role in mitigating both the risk and fear of crime.

Introduced by Martin Heidegger and Christian Norberg Shultz in the 1970s and 1980s, the notion of phenomenology and genius loci define the built environment as ‘the space’ where tangible characteristics such as material, substance, shape, texture, and color all assemble as part of the designed elements – referring on a basic level to the study of the world and our surroundings as we immediately experience them. How ‘the space’ is planned and designed defines the experience of users within the environment. In essence, phenomenology supports the idea that a well-designed built environment will deliver a much more enjoyable experience to individual occupants, ultimately promoting legitimate usage, territoriality and stewardship, leading to the space being a highly desirable place in which to live, learn, work and play. Heidegger and Norberg Shultz’s phenomenology and genius loci serve as the philosophic underpinning of the SAFE Design Standard® methodology, in that the SAFE Design Standard® strongly supports the use of informed planning, landscape architecture, architecture, engineering, and interior design as central elements in achieving optimum building and site security – avoiding obtrusive and unattractive fortification.

The ‘new urbanism’ movement developed in the early 1980s, and was strongly influenced by Leon Krier’s vision for the reconstruction of the European city, and Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language Theory. In 1993, architects Peter Calthorpe, Andrés Duany, Elizabeth Moule, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Stefanos Polyzoides, and Daniel Solomon established the American-based Congress for the New Urbanism. New urbanism promotes the development of compact, pedestrian-friendly, and mixed-use residential developments close to amenities and public transportation. In addition to fostering highly livable and functional communities, new urbanism designs have been shown to reduce crime by increasing opportunities for natural surveillance, encouraging pedestrian use and social interaction, as well as promoting a sense of community and social control. Though some environmental criminologists have criticized new urbanism designs for allowing pedestrian permeability and failing to meet the tenets of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), the SAFE Design Council believes these criticisms can be addressed when a fused grid street model is used – particularly in mixed-use streets and nodes.

Contemporary Design Influences: Planning, Design, and Placemaking Perspectives


In his 1971 book Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, C. Ray Jeffery introduced the notion of CPTED – a multi-disciplinary approach for reducing the risk and fear of crime through the engineering and design of built environments. CPTED is based on the understanding that the behavior of potential offenders can be influenced through the altering of physical space. However, if poorly applied by an untrained assessor, CPTED can at times result in obtrusive physical security features being used to control access to a property – ultimately resulting in over-fortification. This approach generally focuses on deterring offenders from committing offences in specific spaces, thus displacing risk rather than preventing criminal activity. Despite criticism, and thanks in part to scholars such as Randall I. Atlas, CPTED has today become one of the main approaches used in urban crime reduction strategies and has proven to be a highly effective means to improve community safety and reduce the public’s fear of crime.

Concurrent with the development of CPTED, city planner and architect Oscar Newman wrote his seminal 1972 work on urban development entitled Defensible Space. Like Jeffery, Newman noted the importance planning and architecture played in preventing crime and heightening overall neighborhood safety. Newman defined defensible space as "a residential environment whose physical characteristics – building layout and site plan – function to allow inhabitants themselves to become key agents in ensuring their security." The primary focuses of Newman’s examination of defensible spaces were the ideas of social control, crime prevention, and public health in relation to community and building design.

There are several key concepts derived from Newman’s theory that inform the SAFE Design Standard®, namely:

  1. Territoriality – the notion that one’s home is sacred, and thus should give people a sense of ownership and responsibility,

  2. Natural Surveillance – the idea that there is a linkage between sightlines and crime deterrence,

  3. Image – that the actual design of a community can inform a sense of security,

  4. Milieu – includes other features of the community which can impact security and safety such as proximity to police or proximity to commercial real estate,

  5. Safe Adjoining Areas – referring to the ability of residents to oversee adjoining areas due primarily to the way in which those adjoining areas are designed, and

  6. Juxtapositions – the massing of dwellings (including their entries and amenities), and the way in which they incorporate city streets, with the intent of allowing them to be under the surveillance of the residents and therefore under the sphere of influence of community.


Building of the research and scholarship of both classical and contemporary crime reduction through design theorists and practitioners, the SAFE Design Standard® affords an enhanced approach to reducing both the risk and fear of crime through informed design. Developing from traditional approaches such as CPTED, and being informed by professional designers, engineers, and building developers, the SAFE Design Standard® includes a rigorous, systematic, and standardized evaluation of a property’s perimeter and gateways, hard and soft landscapes, building envelope and openings, as well as interior spaces, using evidence-based quantitative measures. Likewise, the SAFE Design Standard® includes multi-scale contextual risk analyses of where a building and site is located, as well as type of building and site itself – helping to ensure risks unique to a project being certified are considered during the assessment process.
A critical aspect in helping to assure the SAFE Design Standard® is applied consistently and appropriately, is the requirement that all who apply the standard first receive comprehensive education and training through the SAFE Design Council. By developing a foundational knowledge of social science and design scholarship, those applying the SAFE Design Standard® can be more accurate, effective, and efficient when applying the principles of crime reduction through design.