Designing safer cities

The challenge

A rapidly urbanising world is placing unique stresses on our communities that can lead to anti-social behaviour. How can we design cities that are safe without compromising liveability?

In this article

  • Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)
  • The impact of social infrastructure, community pride, green space and inclusive open spaces on crime and anti-social behaviours.
  • Harnessing landscape design and community-led approaches to creating safe, vibrant cities and neighbourhoods.

The design of the city you live in has a significant influence on your mental and physical well being. How safe, unstressed, and welcome we feel in our urban environment plays a large role in we how feel about ourselves and how we interact with others. New research is showing that the perception of how safe our cities are may have as much to do with trees and playgrounds as it does with fences and barriers.

This is good news. “We can all live safe and secure lives without sacrificing all the wonderful public spaces in our cities” says Codee Ludbey, a risk, security and resilience consultant in our Sydney office. Codee is part of a cross-disciplinary team of security consultants and landscape architects who have spent the last year investigating how we can continue to enhance the safety and well-being of our cities through environmental design.

Resilient Resources

Our cities are under unprecedented growth. The United Nations estimate an additional 2.5 billion urban dwellers will occupy existing and newly formed urban centres by 2050. Over 60% of the projected land to become urbanised by 2030 has yet to be developed. This new generation of urban landscapes will not only increase density but also create significant challenges for communities.

Since the 1970s, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) has been a go-to for those in the urban security community working to improve the safety of our cities. CPTED is a multi-disciplinary approach to security which suggests we can minimise criminal and anti-social activity by carefully considering the way we design our environment. Traditionally, this approach involves making sure there’s a clean line of site between the street and an office building or using landscaping to ensure the entry point into a public square clearly defined.


Codee’s research uses contemporary second-generation CPTED thinking, which moves beyond hard built solutions to place equal emphasis on soft-edge interventions like developing social infrastructure and reducing inequality.

This might include introducing more carefully planned green spaces into our cities. More green space has been correlated with reduced stress and a sense of pride among neighbourhoods. When people feel more relaxed and have a sense of ownership over their environment, crime is less prevalent. Second generation CPTED also encourages opportunities to meaningfully involve communities in how their spaces are designed. We’ve looked at this in the past — our Cities Alive: Rethinking Green Infrastructure publication explores a host of benefits that can be found in balancing urban green with grey, and designing cities with our communities.

On stage discussing collaborative design for safer cities, part of Melbourne Design Week 2018. Left to right: Research Manager Bree Trevena, Codee Ludbey, Margie McKay (Manager City Design Studio, City of Melbourne) and Dr Nicole Kalms (Director at XYX Lab / Space-Gender-Communication and Senior Lecturer and Interior Architecture). Sketch Angela Williams.

There are two major deliverables for this project. The first is a set of guidelines which aims to embed second-generation CPTED theory across the breadth of Arup’s design disciplines. You don’t always need a security specialist on board when everyone has a better understanding of how to design a safe space. The second outcome aims to engage a much broader audience by widening the conversations around what a 'safe city' means.

As populations grow and urbanise we face increasing pressures on our cities. It’s important that we consider safety from a proactive and holistic perspective. It’s also important that we ensure our cities aren’t only safe but liveable as well.

Human Centred Design

Another thing that makes this research stand out is the opportunity to see how second-generation CPTED can be applied at the city scale. Traditionally, a risk and security consultant applies CPTED theory to the design of an individual space or building.

“When you zoom out, there’s more of a focus around building social cohesion,” Codee says. “How do we encourage communities to interact with each other and form an identity?”

Part of this research involved looking at international case studies. Up until recently, Europe has been the go-to place to see CPTED in action. Amsterdam, with walkable streets and easy access to cycle routes and public transport, is a prize example. But well-designed spaces exist here in Australia as well. One example is Sydney’s Green Square—soon to be home to a denser population than Hong Kong.

“You’ve got great access to transport and other amenities,” says Codee. “There’s a train station and lots of bus routes. They’ve taken a good long look at how they can encourage a number of people to be there.”

Green Square also include plenty of social infrastructure like a library, sporting facilities and plenty of space to simply sit and pass the time. The more people you can encourage to use a space, the more potential eyewitnesses you have to report a crime. More importantly, encouraging intergenerational spaces that diverse groups of people to can linger within means anti-social behaviour is far less likely to occur in the first place.

Keen to learn more about the positive economic, social, political and environmental impacts of people-first social infrastructure? Our Cities Alive: Designing for Urban Childhoods and Shaping Ageing Cities reports are a great starting point.

The future of Green Square - green, social, inclusive. Photo City of Sydney


  • Traditional security and risk thinking benefits from contemporary Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) research, integrating urban design, landscape architecture and community-led design.
  • The right balance of night and day activity in neighbourhoods, supported by facilities like accessible and multi-generational local playgrounds, community halls, schools, open green spaces, reliable public transport and bike paths, will generate a sense of place and local distinctiveness. This connects communities and increases social interaction, which lowers incidents of crime and anti-social behaviour.

This story was written by Jeff McAllister, as part of the Research Review. This series is produced by the Arup Australasia Research team; Alex Sinickas, Bree Trevena and Jeff McAllister with contributions from Sheda and Noel Smyth.

Lead Arup Researcher

Codee Ludbey
Codee is a security consultant with our Resilience, Security and Risk team.

Ask Codee about

  1. The set of guidelines his team has created to embed second-generation CPTED thinking across a number of design disciplines
  2. How second-generation CPTED thinking can be applied at the city scale
  3. More examples of well-designed low-crime spaces in Australia, such as Sydney's Green Square


Research TEAM

Shane leads our Resilience, Security and Risk team in Sydney.
Aaron is a Resilience, Security and Risk consultant in our Melbourne office.
Tessa is a landscape architect in our Sydney office.
Chris is a senior consultant specialising in passive design.
Phil is a landscape architect in our Sydney team.

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