De­sign­ing out crime

As well as a bridge, Copen­hagen and Malmo share an am­bi­tion to drive out crime by in­ject­ing the ideas of an open, demo­cratic and em­pa­thetic so­ci­ety into their very bricks and mor­tar.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By SAN­DRA LAV­ILLE

HALF­WAY along the Ore­sund Bridge where Den­mark meets Swe­den, one of the dark­est of Scan­di­na­vian crime dra­mas placed a body, cut in two and left ly­ing across the bor­der.

Such is the pen­e­tra­tion of Nordic noir into our con­scious­ness that even driv­ing the route on a bright sum­mer day, with the 8km struc­ture glint­ing in the sun­light, you are thrust back into those bleak scenes fea­tur­ing the so­cially awk­ward Saga Noren and her Dan­ish side­kick Martin Ro­hde. As the pair pur­sued a per­pe­tra­tor whose killing spree put Han­ni­bal Lec­tor in the shade, The Bridge ex­plored ex­treme vi­o­lence, po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism and so­cial dys­func­tion in both na­tions.

Trav­el­ling from Den­mark to the point where the body was dis­cov­ered, the city of Malmo is vis­i­ble through the wind­screen as Copen­hagen re­cedes in the rearview mir­ror. While drama­tists linked the two cities around an out­break of vi­o­lence that seemed to sug­gest some­thing deeply wrong at the root of both so­ci­eties, it is not a ten­dency to breed se­rial killers that the cities share, but an am­bi­tion to drive out crime by in­ject­ing the ideas of an open, demo­cratic and em­pa­thetic so­ci­ety into the very bricks and mor­tar that sur­round its cit­i­zens.

In Bri­tain, the au­thor­i­ties have tended to adopt a hos­tile and de­fen­sive ar­chi­tec­tural re­sponse to crime and anti-so­cial be­hav­iour: the erec­tion of thou­sands of CCTV cam­eras, pro­vi­sion of gated com­mu­ni­ties and, most re­cently, the use of metal spikes in the streets. But in Scan­di­navia, de­spite higher rates of homi­cide and as­saults than Bri­tain, ac­cord­ing to OECD fig­ures (Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co-oper­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment), this ap­proach has been re­jected in favour of a softer op­tion.

The re­sults can be seen in de­vel­op­ments like the one in the south­ern har­bour area of Copen­hagen, Sluse­hol­men – once a work­ing-class dock – which has been re­gen­er­ated around a canal sys­tem in a de­lib­er­ate copy of Am­s­ter­dam. Low-rise mod­ern flats with large win­dows and pri­vate bal­conies or gar­dens have been built around in­ner court­yards. Fences are re­placed with glass and per­spex, en­cour­ag­ing light to bounce off the sur­faces, and in­creas­ing vis­i­bil­ity of the fam­i­lies look­ing out on to the square and neigh­bours look­ing in. The aim is to use the nat­u­ral sur­veil­lance of the res­i­dents as a pow­er­ful form of crime preven­tion.

In the mid­dle of the court­yard, a chil­dren’s play area is well used. Toys lie scat­tered around, and ba­bies sleep in prams around the edge of the space. The canals flow up the sides and back of the build­ings, and the blocks look out onto the har­bour it­self. Bikes and kayaks – used by the res­i­dents to get to work in cen­tral Copen­hagen – are left unlocked. There are no dark al­leys or dead ends, and the at­mos­phere is open, calm­ing and wel­com­ing. Most strik­ingly for a vis­i­tor from Bri­tain, there is not one CCTV cam­era.

Walk­ing around Sluse­hol­men is the ar­chi­tect Bo Gron­lund.

In his mid-70s, a small, en­er­getic white-haired man, his enthusiasm about the im­pact ar­chi­tects can have on re­duc­ing crime is no less to­day than when he was a young man.

Eyes bright with zeal, Gron­lund talks rapidly, ges­tic­u­lat­ing at ar­chi­tec­tural fea­tures in the area which,

The wa­ter is used at the Sluse­hol­men Canal district (Copen­hagen, den­mark) as a nat­u­ral de­fence. It is all along one side of the build­ing so no one can break in from there. — Wikimedia he says, make res­i­dents safer.

“The wa­ter is used here,” he ges­tic­u­lates, “as a nat­u­ral de­fence. You see how it is all along one side of the build­ing – no one can break in from there. It is built around the court­yard prin­ci­ple where you have a pub­lic space in the in­te­rior. The car park is un­der­ground and not vis­i­ble. There are no cam­eras here, of course. We are quite scep­ti­cal about them be­cause they can al­most only be used af­ter a crime has taken place; they do not pre­vent it.

“This is a calm­ing en­vi­ron­ment, it is not provoca­tive. If you do things that tell you that you are a bad per­son – like have cam­eras or gates every­where – you might be­come that bad per­son, at least a lit­tle bit.”

Gron­lund was part of a group of ar­chi­tects in the 1980s who tried to put de­sign­ing out crime at the heart of city plan­ning. They drew up rec­om­men­da­tions to give plan­ners and de­sign­ers a bet­ter chance of shap­ing the phys­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment to min­imise vi­o­lence and van­dal­ism.

“At the time, the only pub­li­ca­tion around crime preven­tion from the EU was a Bri­tish one, and it was very Bri­tish in its think­ing: with fences, cam­eras and alarms,” he said. “We wanted to do it in an­other way very con­sciously. The ba­sis was that Den­mark should con­tinue to be an open so­ci­ety with a min­i­mum of phys­i­cal bar­ring and for­mal sur­veil­lance.”

A leading fig­ure in the move­ment, ar­chi­tect John All­pass, was re­spon­si­ble for de­sign­ing the first hous­ing area in Den­mark where cre­at­ing safety and se­cu­rity was im­plicit in the de­sign. Eight kilome- tres out of Copen­hagen, the Si­belius es­tate is still con­sid­ered a model of the de­sign­ing out crime phi­los­o­phy, shaped around:

> Cre­at­ing a so­cial space where the nat­u­ral sur­veil­lance of the people within it pre­vents crime.

> In­creas­ing people’s at­tach­ment to an area.

> En­cour­ag­ing people to use com­mon ar­eas with seat­ing, foy­ers and lob­bies that in­vite so­cial con­tact.

> Pro­vid­ing fa­cil­i­ties for adults and young people in par­tic­u­lar.

> Lim­it­ing the num­ber of ac­cess points from sur­round­ing streets.

> Fre­quent in­spec­tion and re­pair of van­dal­ism.

> Avoid­ing al­ley­ways, hid­ing places and blind spots, and only us­ing locks, cam­eras and phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers as a last re­sort.

Bronzed and re­laxed, Karsten Ellekaer is a fa­mil­iar fig­ure on the es­tate. He ar­rived here in 1985, shortly af­ter the first phase was com­pleted, with a young child. He brought up his fam­ily here and, though re­cently re­tired, has no in­ten­tion of liv­ing any­where else.

“Why would I want to leave? This is a won­der­ful place to live,” he says. “We have very lit­tle crime here. From the start ev­ery­thing was built in a cer­tain way. The idea is the build­ings are placed in the mid­dle of an in­dus­trial area, which means that ten­ants can keep an eye on the in­dus­trial units at night, and when the ten­ants are out at work, there are people work­ing in the in­dus­tries who can act as a nat­u­ral sur­veil­lance for the prop­er­ties here.”

There is a bar run by ten­ants, a cafe, a laun­dry – where cards are swiped rather than cash used – a fit­ness cen­tre and a com­mon house which ten­ants can hire for par­ties. Neatly tended pri­vate gar­dens, with low hedges to in­crease vis­i­bil­ity, line an in­ner road through the es­tate which is used by pedes­tri­ans, cy­clists and driv­ers. The pas­sage of people is an­other in­tended form of “eyes on the street” sur­veil­lance to re­duce crime.

Ellekaer spends his days walk­ing around the es­tate check­ing for graf­fiti, lit­ter and signs of crim­i­nal dam­age. As the ten­ants’ as­so­ci­a­tion leader, he runs a team of care­tak­ers who are busy weed­ing the verges along­side the in­te­rior road. On the ba­sis of the “bro­ken win­dows” the­ory – that van­dal­ism and graf­fiti, if left, can es­ca­late into more se­ri­ous crime – so main­te­nance is deemed to be part of in­creas­ing safety and se­cu­rity.

But there are no CCTV cam­eras or warn­ing signs ban­ning skate­board­ing, lit­ter­ing or anti-so­cial be­hav­iour. “They are not nec­es­sary,” Ellekaer says.

Be­hind the high-wire fence of the na­tional po­lice head­quar­ters a few miles away, Karsten Nielsen, a for­mer po­lice of­fi­cer, sits in his small pre­fab of­fice which is dwarfed by the po­lice sta­tion op­po­site. A quiet and thought­ful man, he leads the Dan­ish Crime Preven­tion Coun­cil and be­lieves there is a vi­tal phi­los­o­phy be­hind his coun­try’s de­sire to make its people feel safe with­out lock­ing them in. The Si­belius es­tate, he says, brought to­gether all the best ideas of build­ing se­cure and safe en­vi­ron­ments.

“We want a so­ci­ety we live in to be a free, open so­ci­ety, and we don’t want to lock any gates or make bar­ri­ers un­less it is ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary,” he says. “It’s about cre­at­ing safety and re­duc­ing crime through ur­ban plan­ning in the built en­vi­ron­ment, on the streets, in the liv­ing ar­eas we cre­ate. It re­lates to all ma­jor crime cat­e­gories like theft and bur­glary, van­dal­ism and vi­o­lence.”

But at­tempts to re­model Si­belius have not all been suc­cess­ful; some de­signs have cre­ated pub­lic spa­ces which are too large for the pop­u­la­tion – lend­ing the feel of a sub­urb so de­serted it feels like the aftermath of a nu­clear at­tack. There is also, in some ar­eas, a sense that the life has been de­signed away, leav­ing only a husk of any­thing that makes a city in­ter­est­ing to live in.

“You can­not have a com­pletely safe city and a com­pletely ex­cit­ing city at the same time, they are com­pletely con­tra­dic­tory,” Gron­lund sug­gests. “You need to have the ex­cit­ing part of the city which is per­haps some­what dan­ger­ous. So it has to be bal­anced and in pro­por­tion.”

Look at any guide­book and one of the most “ex­cit­ing, vi­brant and cos­mopoli­tan” ar­eas of in­nerCopen­hagen is Nor­re­bro, where nearly 30% of in­hab­i­tants are from im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties and the or­ganic cafes, bars and chic baby shops rub up against cheap ke­bab take­aways, pound shops and slightly seedy clubs.

Nor­re­bro – ac­cord­ing to po­lice sta­tis­tics – also has a higher rate of crime than many other ar­eas of Copen­hagen, with 2,200 crimes re­ported per square kilo­me­tre. These in­clude gang-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing drug deal­ing, pos­ses­sion of weapons and rob­beries, as well as shop bur­glar­ies, van­dal­ism and graf­fiti.

Daubed with the graf­fiti of ri­val gangs along its main streets, the area has been the scene of many ri­ots over the years, most re­cently in 2007 when the po­lice moved in and evicted squat­ters from the Youth House, a so­cial cen­tre and base for en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists. Now it is the sub­ject of a de­tailed re­port by Gron­lund into how to al­ter the en­vi­ron­ment in or­der to re­duce the crime. “Ob­vi­ously it is (only) small changes you can make; you can­not pull ev­ery­thing down and start again. It is about work­ing with the build­ings and mak­ing ad­just­ments.”

Some in Nor­re­bro, how­ever, fear that an at­tempt to de­sign out the crime on their streets could erad­i­cate the very rea­sons they live here – its rad­i­cal edge, mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and all-round funk­i­ness.

Young people gather around cafe ta­bles in the main square, where plant shops vie for space with juice bars and veg­e­tar­ian restaurants.

“There are some gangs here and there is drug deal­ing, but I don’t feel this is a dan­ger­ous place at all,” says Hanne Kold, who runs a baby shop in the square.

“A lot of people who hang around come here be­cause they need some­where to go; they are part of this place,” Kold adds. “They don’t make too much trou­ble be­cause this is their place too. I wouldn’t want this area be­ing changed in some ma­jor way – I don’t see why they should want to do that.” — Guardian News & Me­dia

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