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Improving Urban Security<br>through Environmental Design

Joint UNICRI - MIT Senseable City Lab Report

Milan -


A new UNICRI and MIT Report was presented in Milan on 18th April 2011. The presentation was attended by: Mr. Maurizio Cadeo, Councillor in charge of Urban Design in Milan; Mr. Francesco Cappè Head of UNICRI’s Security Governance/ Counter-Terrorism Laboratory; Mr. Carlo Ratti, Director of the MIT Senseable City Lab and Mr. Alberto Contaretti, Deputy Head of the UNICRI Office in Lucca.

The Report is part of the core action of UNICRI’s Security Governance/Counter-Terrorism Laboratory (the Lab), which aims to support policymakers in designing and implementing effective policies in the field of security. The UNICRI Lab established a partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Senseable City Lab to investigate the impact that green urban design and eco-sustainable urban solutions would have on the security of modern cities and on citizens’ perception of security.

The first product of this collaboration – the Report “Improving Urban Security through Environmental Design” – provides policy-makers with suggestions for the design of effective environmental policies and definitive measures that have an impact on urban security and its perception among citizens. The theoretical framework proposed in this Report, suggests a revision of the strategy currently in place - Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED).


The joint UNICRI-MIT Senseable City Lab Report is a manual for a green and digitally enhanced environmental design that addresses issues related to cities. It provides an index of strategies, which have a direct or indirect impact on a city’s image making it appear as a safer and more secure environment. Each section of the report identifies a particular urban challenge that needs to be addressed through environmental design, providing a set of guidelines that are both green and digitally enhanced to provide solutions to these challenges, and concludes with a list of actual or potential projects that deploy, in part, the proposed guidelines, demonstrating their prospective effectiveness.

The Report analyses the interdependencies that exist between ecology, green urban design and security of both the citizen and the urban environment in general. The analysis commences by setting out CPTED theory, which, although currently adopted by municipalities, is not geared toward taking into account advances in technology and the ecological and the environmental impacts on urban life.

The Report proposes a third generation of CPTED, designed to take into account the rapid development resulting from new technologies and the digital age – all of which signal revolutionising how we approach urban safety and security.

Third-generation CPTED, as presented in the Report, envisages a green and sustainable approach to enhance the living standards of urbanites, as well as to improve the image of cities as user-friendly, safe, and secure. It focuses on a particular sort of spatial democracy and transparency, characterized by the use of solid infrastructures and solutions, along with situated technologies. Moreover, building on the potential of online social networks, third-generation CPTED aims to create a sense of belonging and membership to a greater community by soliciting citizen engagement and participation in improving urban living conditions.

The revision of existing CPTED theory, i.e. the third generation CPTED - as set out in the report - proposes that the physical make-up of a city is designed according to the following recommendations:

  1. Integrating a sufficient amount of public spaces into the fabric of the city to provide appropriate settings for collective activities and gatherings;
  2. Integrating sufficient green spaces of various scales, including street vegetation, vertical green facades, green roofs, public gardens, and neighbourhood and city-scale parks;
  3. Fostering new developments that target mixed and balanced communities in terms of income level, social status, ethnicity, demographics, and tenure;
  4. Supporting new developments and revitalization projects that aim to create new spaces, or re-structure existing neighbourhoods as mixed-use instead of single-use;
  5. Optimizing the urban removal chain in terms of sewage management and garbage collection, taking into account technologies and cultural practices regarding recycling and grey water treatment;
  6. Enhancing natural surveillance by providing sufficient street lighting at night, securing the required level of occupation and usage at all times;
  7. Ensuring that no place in the city is a terrain-vague, i.e. a place with no institutional supervision;
  8. Promoting revitalization and redevelopment projects that focus on grey or brown sites – sites previously accommodating hazardous industries, or sites that are devastated by natural disasters or violent conflicts, or sites that have been previously occupied and are currently vacant due to economic or socio-cultural reasons;
  9. Providing sufficient and effective public transportation infrastructure that not only contributes to the well-being of citizens, but also traffic reduction, which has a direct impact on the psychological well-being of citizens;
  10. Allocating sufficient financial resources to the regular maintenance of civic spaces, including streetscapes and urban facades;
  11. Allocating sufficient financial and human resources for providing public education, particularly for the young urban population;
  12. Providing efficient regulations for the construction sector in terms of monitoring the structural integrity, energy efficiency, and quality of building proposals;
  13. Providing financial support and the macro and microeconomic infrastructure to assist the low-income urban population in home-ownership.

The Report concludes by exploring the potential application of the proposed programme to crime prevention and the enhancement of the perception of safety in urban areas, which is identified as the third-generation of CPTED.