20 March 2010


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From the cover, Crafting Defensible Space

In the 1970s, Oscar Newman led a study out of Washington University regarding issues of territoriality in the spaces near and between buildings. His thesis was that the way that buildings were arranged can and did physiologically affect their inhabitants as well as those who were passers by. The results of these studies resulted in the landmark book,
Defensible Space. The study and book launched a movement that offered the idea that appropriate design could be a deterrent to crime and a basis for building a healthy community.

As part of the Defensible Space theory, Newman defined a categorical range of outdoor spaces that were classified in terms of the building occupant’s sense of ownership. This categorical range was described as ‘public,' ‘semi-public,' ‘semi-private,' and ‘private,' each dependent on the level of territoriality one could assign to it. A neighborhood could be made a safer place if the characteristics of each of these categories was understood and implemented appropriately in the design and arrangement of it’s buildings.

Although this research was focused on public safety and the general sense of a residential neighborhood, I believe that there is something more to it. I believe that Defensible Spaces’ categorical range can extend through urban design on a much deeper and profound level; the public, the semi-public, the semi-private, and the private each describe places with distinct qualities and attributes. I propose that each of these characteristic places are specific to a multitude of qualities well beyond public safety. These spaces have unique and dynamic qualities, and they also must be mutually dependent upon each other.

Great urban environments, places with their attributes of beauty, vitality, and security, inherently feature this characteristic of hierarchy of space. Part of what interests me in my design work and writing about cities is in understanding the full depth of this inherent characteristic, and in developing it as a tool for creating cities.

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