Security by design: how to render public spaces both safe and open to all

Paris, France, March 2021 – How can cities preserve their open and welcoming nature while ensuring security for their residents and visitors? Efus’ working group on Security & Innovation organised a web conference to address urban planning, design and management of security in public spaces jointly with the Cutting Crime Impact (CCI) and the PACTESUR projects, in which Efus is a partner. 

Protecting urban public spaces

Numerous studies have shown that the planning, design and management of public spaces have an impact on security and on people’s feelings of insecurity. This is also commonly referred to as security by design in the protection of public spaces1, in which security features are addressed from the very beginning of the conception and design, taking into account their inherent openness and integration in their urban landscape. This approach can help balance efforts to increase urban resilience whilst promoting the open and inclusive character of the public sphere2. A different iteration of this approach is crime prevention through urban design and planning (CP-UDP), a concept applied in the Cutting Crime Impact (CCI) project3. CP-UDP seeks to positively impact the behaviour of users by embedding protective physical features and encouraging prosocial behaviour through good design and place management. 

In order to better understand this approach, Efus’ Working Group on Security & Innovation organised the first-joint session between the Cutting Crime Impact (CCI) project and the PACTESUR project, in which Efus is a partner. The CCI project aims to enable police and relevant local and national authorities to reduce the impact of petty crime and, where possible, prevent it from ever occurring in the first place. The PACTESUR project aims to empower cities and local actors in the field of urban security, mainly by enhancing capacities to tackle terrorist threats, but also other risks inherent to public spaces. 

Urban planning, design and management of security in public spaces: What can we learn from European practices? 

Paul Van Soomeren, Founder of the DSP Groep (NL)4, outlined the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) technique and emphasised the importance of taking an evidence-based approach to reduce crime in public spaces. Staņislavs Šeiko  Strategic Planning Specialist at the Riga Municipal Police (LV) offered real-life examples of successes and weaknesses of the implementation of CPTED in Riga5 and explored methods to overcome any failures in the future. Vania Ceccato, Professor at the Royal Institute of Technology (SE), discussed the risks of creating exclusionary architecture when seeking to secure public spaces, and explored methods to avoid isolating/segregating/excluding members of the local community.

What is Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)?
This approach aims to prevent crime, including terrorism, as well as anti-social behaviour and  feelings of insecurity. CPTED implies two concepts, both physical and social, which must both be thoroughly tackled in order to implement effective solutions. The approach must always include all stakeholders and actors, from all levels of society and from broad backgrounds of expertise. CPTED focuses on a specific area/environment, and involves evidence-based action. To function effectively, the approach must be both time and site specific, focusing, for example, on a particular building. The approach has proven effective when carefully and accurately targeted, as seen for example in the Netherlands and the UK6.

Establishing effective collaboration with key stakeholders

An open and effective collaboration, knowledge exchange and training between different stakeholders (including planners, law enforcement and local authorities) is fundamental in embracing and overcoming the challenges inherent in planning. This is relevant to all stakeholders, who may all benefit from a more direct and integrated approach and build on their unique expertise.

Democratic measures and initiatives should be further associated with urban planning and design procedures, in order to offer all stakeholders and local actors a direct engagement with, and ownership of, public spaces. Indeed, the views of people that live and work in particular urban spaces must be taken into account in order to receive a true and full understanding of the present situation and therefore best respond to individuals’ needs while protecting and preserving their enjoyment of public spaces.

Identifying the main challenges and risks when implementing CPTED principles

Most European cities and public spaces were not designed with any knowledge or anticipation of the risks and threats that we face today (e.g. drones, vehicles). Often, solutions are too reactive, rather than proactive, and therefore only tackle issues after they have already done harm. It can be difficult to ensure that the right threat is identified so that any solutions are well targeted and well focused. This is why a comprehensive analysis and evaluation of local vulnerabilities and necessities is essential7. It is impossible to change an entire city and evenly ensure protection everywhere. Furthermore, securing one space may simply displace those who wish to cause harm to a different location within the city/region.

CPTED-led planning can also lead to exclusionary practices in urban public spaces (e.g. anti-homeless architecture), which alienates certain groups of people and deprives them of their rights to enjoy and benefit from public spaces. Urban design and planning that strictly follow CPTED  principles may risk erasing images and visual representations of realities such as poverty, social decay and public disorder, contributing to gentrifying public spaces and homogenising perspectives of the city. 

CPTED-led urban planning carries the risk of creating barriers (physical and social), gated communities, and divisions between people and between public spaces. This can even go so far as segregation. Some barriers, however, may in fact be necessary and even positive: consider the cordon sanitaire, prompted by the ongoing pandemic to ensure social distancing and protect public health.

A well targeted and focused application of CPTED principles that includes physical and social elements can help protect a public space from very different threats and risks – whether they are linked to petty crime, panic movements or terrorist attacks. Planning and designing a public space in line with CPTED principles from scratch is not always an option. Multi-agency, cooperative site and social management can however mitigate security weaknesses inherent to public spaces. In order to prevent exclusionary practices, cities need to closely consider the real needs of users. Systematic follow-up and democratic input during the design, planning and management stages ensure that all stakeholders continue to be involved in making public spaces safe, accessible and open to all. 

A third series of web conferences

The Efus Working Group on Security and Innovation looks forward to welcoming you to our next session on May 5 from 2pm to 3pm CET.: “Whether for surveillance or for other safety and prevention purposes, how can cities ensure a fair and transparent use of artificial intelligence based technologies?” We will explore this question by looking at different applications of such technologies, reiterating risks associated with them and presenting existing safeguards and resources to foster transparency. You can register here


 1As defined by the Urban Agenda for the EU Partnership on Security in Public Spaces, “security by design is an all-encompassing concept and a new culture that needs to be developed across European cities. It deals with the conception of city planning, urban architecture and furniture, flows, infrastructures in accordance with security issues from the start. It concerns the protection of buildings, public spaces, critical infrastructures, detection methods and technologies.”
2Urban Agenda for the EU Partnership on Security in Public Space (2020), Action Plan, available at:
3CCI Factsheet on Crime Prevention through Urban Design, available at:—/
4DSP Groep is part of the Cutting Crime Impact (CCI) consortium. For more information about the partners:
5 Riga is one of the 11 Associated Cities of the PACTESUR project. For more information about the project’s partners:
6 CCI Factsheet on Crime Prevention through Urban Design, available at:—/ 
7 For more information, our members can explore the Efus Network page on the strategic approach, available at: 

> You can follow Efus’ working group on Security & Innovation on Efus Network
> For more information or if you’re interested in joining a working group, please contact Pilar De La Torre ( or Pauline Lesch (

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