How to Design Safer Cities

Copenhagen, Superkilen

Can a good public space influence social behavior and make a city more secure? 

In 1969, Philip Zimbardo, professor at the University of Stanford, performed a social psychological experiment. He placed an unlicensed car with a lifted hood in a neglected street in The Bronx, New York, and another similar car in a wealthy neighborhood of Palo Alto, California. The car in The Bronx was attacked in less than ten minutes, its apparent state of abandonment enabling the looting. The car in Palo Alto, however, remained untouched for more than a week.

Zimbardo then took his experiment one step further and broke a window of the car in Palo Alto. Almost immediately, passersby began to take things out of the car and within a few hours, the car had been completely dismantled. In both cases, many of the looters did not appear to be dangerous people. This experiment lead Harvard Professors George Kelling and James Wilson to develop the Broken Windows Theory in 1982: “If a broken window is left without repair, people will come to the conclusion that no one cares about it and that there is no one watching it. Then more windows will be broken and the lack of control will spread from the buildings to the streets, sending a signal that anything goes and that there is no authority.”

Read more about designing safer after the break…