COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

Safer Communities Through Placemaking: PPS visits Johannesburg

Megan MacIver
Sep 29, 2010
Dec 14, 2017

Making great places means making safe places: in many ways, Placemaking and crime prevention have always gone hand in hand.  And this summer, PPS' Cynthia Nikitin traveled to South Africa to bring the concept of place to the UN Habitat Safer Cities Programme at the Safe and Resilient Cities Capacity Building Workshop. This three-day training session was hosted by the CSIR Meraka Institute in order to equip participants from all over South Africa with the tools they need to prevent crime in their communities.

35 safety planners, police commissioners, and government leaders from South Africa, Kenya, and Namibia gathered in Pretoria, South Africa to learn from Cynthia about ways Placemaking can help build safer, more resilient cities.

Placemaking offers techniques for a new approach to crime prevention which goes beyond environmental modifications and traditional surveillance and policing techniques.  Placemaking builds safer cities through holistic improvements that generate strong local economies and vibrant public spaces.

Crime prevention has always been an integral part of PPS' work and a quality inherent in every great, vibrant, community-based place.  In fact, PPS got its start turning New York City's Bryant Park around after the area had been taken over by drug dealers and other criminal activities. In many ways, this workshop kicked off a larger discourse about the way Placemaking can enrich many crime prevention strategies, including Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, or CPTED.

Placemaking and CPTED have many points of intersection. For example, one of the central tenants of CPTED is that crime can be prevented by creating environmental conditions that encourage Territoriality and Natural Surveillance: in other words, spaces can be configured to permit or discourage certain activities and users. PPS knows that when communities come together to improve the spaces at the heart of their neighborhoods, this energizes what Jacobs famously termed "eyes on the street," an authentic and spontaneous form of "surveillance" that goes a long way towards making places safer and more sustainable. The links between safety and Placemaking are even more clear after a quick glance at PPS' Benefits of Place Diagram.

Learn more about the intersection of Placemaking and CPTED by reading Cynthia's article, featured on the front page of the International CPTED Association's recent newsletter.

In addition to equipping local community members to build safer communities, the workshop had a much larger purpose with a broad international impact.  According to Juma Assiago, Urban Safety Expert at the UN Habitat Safer Cities Programme, the workshop's overarching goal is to review the legacy and the impact of mega sporting events ont he safety of the host cities with a key mottive to initiate debate towards divesting national and international expenditures on security provisions for large international events towards investment in local culture, educational, health, and public space programming, infrastructure, and other mechanisms that make cities safer and more livable; that address urban vulnerability, reduce crime and violence, and enhance social cohesion."

Community facilitators from Korogocho (pictured here above), one of the largest informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya, attended the Capacity Building Workshop. Flickr  photo by Carlosjwj

One part of the event, A Capacity Building Workshop, brought together community facilitators from Korogocho (one of the largest informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya). Facilitators from three pilot projects in South Africa learned from each other about strategies for local crime prevention.  One participant, Daniel Onyango, shared his experiences as the founder of a musical social empowerment group called Hope Raisers that uses music and performance to enrich the lives of the kids living in Nairobi’s slums. Another event included a session on Local Safety Partnership Building, which brought together many different organizations to share approaches and work, explore ways to build and formalize coalitions and partnerships and develop joint funding proposals for collaborative work.

Cynthia  discussed the role urban spaces play in safety and how transforming a public space through Placemaking can create sense of ownership, and how that space can become an asset for the community. The popularity of the Fan Parks all over South Africa during the World Cup spoke eloquently to this point.  Parks, plazas, vacant lots, backyards, areas around transit stations were turned into places where fans watched matches, international teams alighted from buses and started pick up soccer games with local kids, people stayed out past dark.

Crowds gather in this Fan Park in Capetown to watch the games in June 2010. Photo by Melissa Britz"]

During her trip, Cynthia also introduced participants from Namibia, Kenya, and South Africa to PPS' hands-on evaluative engagement processes including activity mapping and observation techniques, place evaluation and people-focused collaborative visioning exercises. More than 35 safety planners, police commissioners, and government leaders learned how to facilitate a community planning and visioning process; identify local leaders and stakeholders; the importance of running a visioning meeting; and how best to capture and utilize input.

UN Habitat has expressed interest in enlisting the help of PPS with a "Safer Cities Roundtable" as part of the Sixth Session of the World Urban Forum in Bahrain in 2012. PPS will help to identify safer city candidates; that is, those cities made safer by improving their public spaces such as New York City (which by some measures is now safer than London). Suggestions for best practices are welcome, so please do share! Contact

PPS will stay involved in these efforts by developing scenarios for bringing place-based discussions of urban safety and social cohesion to the community of planners and public space architects as part of the road map toward a safe and sustainable Brazil for the 2016 Olympic Games.

Megan MacIver
Megan MacIver
Related Articles & Resources
No items found.
COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space