Security concerns are present in the almost all our client’s briefs. Understandable, as the threats are real. To protect ourselves, we have become resigned to locking ourselves in our little prisons patrolled by a neighbourhood watch, with panic buttons at every door, little red eyes hiding in every corner, and an electric fence that would give that pesky T-Rex in Jurassic Park pause.
In 1969, psychologist Phillip Zimbardo, in conducting a socio-psychological experiment, arranged to have two vehicles parked in two different areas; one in a rundown neighbourhood, the other in an affluent area. The findings were not surprising. The vehicle abandoned in the “dodgy” neighbourhood was essentially dismantled and stripped of its valuable parts within a day. Conversely, the vehicle in the affluent area, was left untouched; until Zimbardo broke one of its windows. The neglect of a broken window, which remained unrepaired, soon attracted vandals, and was soon also completely stripped of parts and dismantled.
Though the outcomes of Zimbardo’s experiment may not be surprising, it proved that, regardless of where you are, people’s respect for property – and by extension each other – is largely linked to their extended environment and the care and respect represented in such environment, or by such property.
Social scientists James Q Wilson and Geore L Kelling, in introducing their “Broken windows theory” gave the following example:-
“Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.
Or consider a pavement. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of refuse from take-out restaurants there or even break into cars.”
Wilson and Kelling went on to suggests that, when urban environments are maintained to prevent small crimes such as vandalism, an atmosphere of lawfulness is created, which prevents more serious crimes from happening.
South Africa is no exception. Our well-manicured and maintained areas are our low crime areas. Maybe our tendency to attribute this trend solely to socio-economic factors is over simplified. The maintenance of buildings and their surroundings could decrease crime and vandalism in and around them.
The fact that a building’s surroundings could influence its value is well known. Its impact on security may be underestimated. We underestimate our ability – and duty – to improve the extended environment around our properties. We should consider the larger areas around out building as extensions to our buildings. A well-maintained area lets passers-by know that this is a respected space.
As if we need another reason for an owner to maintain an improved vision of their public space; it is increased property value. The same things that attract vandals chase away property investors. If everyone in the neighbourhood values their property the neighbourhood’s property value will also go up.
Look at the points below and see how your property compares.
- Observe your entrances.
Make sure you can see the road and especially your main entrances from the safety of the building. Being able to observe people and cars before they get into your property is a key advantage in securing yourself. But make sure you can do this while still in the safety of your home.
- Is your garden an ally or enemy?
Make sure your landscaping does not create dark hiding spots, especially around entrances. Vandals and criminals can make good use of the dark recesses of a poorly laid out garden. Alternatively, the clever use of landscaping can assist in your security. Thorny roses under windows, water features by boundary walls, ext.
- Provide trees in residential areas.
Research results indicate that, outdoor residential spaces with more trees are perceived as significantly more attractive, safer, and more likely to be used than similar spaces without trees.
- Be careful where you use sight limiting boundary walls
Low walls or fences are better than full height walls. Crime happens where no one is looking, and once you are behind a 2-meter-high brick wall, they are free to do what you want.
- Avoid chain link fencing or razor-wire, it communicates unused areas.
Often out of desperation, razor wire fencing is used to keep unwanted people out. However, razor wire fencing also keeps wanted people out. Once your building starts to look like a prison, it will start attracting future prisoners.
- Get to know your neighbours, even if they smell a bit funny.
Even better if you have nosy neighbours! The people closest to you are most likely to spot unwelcomed guests and act on your behalf.
- Ensure that you have good lighting
Pedestrian areas, entrances, and high value places such as ATM’s and parking should be well lit. Make sure your lighting is well positioned as well, our eyes cannot see behind bright lights.
- Make sure your roof is not easily accessible.
Most roofs are easy to enter once you are on top of them. And once on top of a roof, access to other areas such as balcony’s or courtyards become much easier to get to.
- Find ways to increase Pedestrian flow past your property.
If you have a business this is a no brainer. Adding public facilities such as benches, walkways and comfortable landscaping makes an area much more enticing. The public provide good natural surveillance.
So, how does your property fare?
 Broken Windows, James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, the Atlantic Monthly March 1982.