Experiencing Sense of Safety on Street: The Influence of Neighborhood on Fear of Crime on Streets

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Street is the most vital public place of a city. The character of street predominantly influence by its neighborhood, which spontaneously influence the Sense of safety of its user. One aspect of sense of safety is fear of crime, which differ according to the individual’ alarm of sense of safety to being, or being part of a crime. People unintentionally scan their immediate context for possible danger, by reading their adjacent contexts’ signs for places for offenders and crime. A plethora of literatures have discussed the effect of immediate context characteristics of fear of crime with special focus on two perspectives; either as environmental or social. But many literatures on urban design, planning and architecture state that environmental and social variables of a context doesn’t act separately. Both these variables influence strongly to add a sense to a place. Therefore to study fear of crime, it is essential to study both of these variables. The study found that some police crime hot spots do not overlapped with the fear of crime spots identified by the public, which lead the study to examine both of these police crime hot spots and public identified fear of crime spots to understand this difference. A theoretical framework with selected social and environmental variables from past literatures on fear of crime and sense of safety used for the study.

Keywords: street, neighborhood, sense of safety, fear of crime, environmental variables, social variables




A Fewer attention has paid to understand the effect of neighborhood context on fear of crime as sense of safety, in our context as south Asians. The street has become a place in which most of the crime efforts and crimes are happening. Fear of crime may born in many ways. A fear to become a victim of a crime or the human psychology of risk comes with the fear of crime can illustrate as different modes of fear of crime (Fisher B., Nasar J. L., 1995). The psychological barrier comes with the fear of crime limits the individual behavior (Kristina, S. , Ulf, E. , Naomi, K. , Lars, S. , Henrik, O. , Daniel, A., 2015) in a space, their independence and choice, mobility, frustration with public spaces and neighborhood and general life (Abraham & Maury, 1998). And this also impacts on individuals’ health and well-being (Aneshensel. C.S. , Sucoff. C.A.., 2015) (Latkin. C.A. , Curry. A.D., 2015).

1.1. Objective

The intention of this study is to explore the environmental and social variables of neighborhood in creating a fear of crime on the street user. The level of fear of a crime is different in our context compare to other European context, where a plethora of literature have written regarding the subject. Therefore this study, examine the influence of neighborhood context on fear of crime of public with a special focus on our city neighborhood and streets.

A plethora of literatures were studied and used as the theoretical basis to develop the study. As an initial attempt in our context to study the influence of neighborhood context on ‘fear of crime’ on streets, it is expected that this novel study will become an interesting subject to get more attention ahead to uplift the street character of our urban context.

1.2. Project Justification

Since it affect the comfort and safety of people and society, Fear of crime is a vital subject to be studied. Therefore, many scholars have stated the importance of highlighting what fear of crime meant for people and society, yet all the literatures have written on focusing on western context. As an Asian country with a different urban setting and a different social context it is essential to extent these literatures and theories to our context (Ratnayake, 2013). Therefore this study is done as a novel study focused on identifying neighborhood variables of city neighborhood which influence fear of crime in our context.

1.3. Limitations

Sense of safety on streets may include physical damages and threats from vehicle accidents, injuries by uneven pavement edges/ ditches on the pathway and etc... early scholars have mention that these events do not consider to the crime sector (Garafalo, 1981; Nasar, Fisher, & Grannis, 1993). Therefore, this paper also does not consider them as crimes.

People experience sense of safety in relation to fear of crime at many levels due to many variables in a context, vary from macro scale to the micro scale (Fisher B., Nasar J. L., 1995). This dissertation mainly focused on micro level features on immediate city neighborhood context around streets.

According to the literature survey, it was identified that the past concepts, theories of fear of crime have done in relation to two main theoretical perspectives: as theories related to environmental design or theories related to socio-cultural variables. But most of these theories haven’t emphasized the importance of having both of these perspectives. Most of them have drastically focused on a single perspective. But Wilson & Kelling (1982) and (Jacobs J. , 1961) indirectly discuss the impact of both physical and socio-cultural aspects of neighborhood for sense of safety. Therefore in this study certain selected cues/ variables quoted from these past literatures, were separately listed under environmental and social categories for the study.

Though there are a plethora of literatures have done, this is study outlines few selected past literatures done on fear of crime. A theoretical framework created by outlining the broad theoretical approaches done on different levels of fear of crime since the 1950s.

Yet all these literatures have written focusing on Western neighborhood contexts, which’s characteristics and aspects are different from our Asian context. Therefore the list of variables selected carefully for the study to get a positive result.

In many literatures, streets found to be as a significant fragment of open public space and consider as the most significant symbol of the civic realm (Jacobs J. , 1961), (Kostof, 1992), (Alexander, 1977), (Tuan, 1977). People use streets for many reasons; social, functional, recreational and other activities. Therefore streets has become the place where people mostly expose, yet most safe and most unsafe among many other public realms. Neighborhood is a key term used in every literature on public spaces, or urban realms, in this study Kotahena with a “mixed – use neighborhood” selected as the location for the study.

The frequently selected participants (20 to 35 samples for each spot) were the street users found from the case study area. Who were interviewed using direct interviews with close-end and open-end questioners about their fear of victimization of crime in relation to their context and selected fear spots.

All The participants selected are above 15 years age, children’s’ comment has not been used for the survey. Their way of seen things is quite interesting but different from the mature adults (Tuan, 1977), especially the way they response to neighborhood variables, especially relate to fear of crime is different (Mehta V. , 2013).

1.4. Sequence of the Study

Second chapter discuss about street and city neighborhood by highlighting the influence of social and environmental variables of the neighborhood towards the experiential perception of the user.

Third chapter focus on literatures on sense of safety and fear of crime, which discussed under social and environmental variables.

Fourth chapter presents the location of study, the theoretical framework and the methods of analysis. A list of Myriad methods including Walk-by observations, Direct observations, Pedestrian counts, field notes and Surveys using Photography, Short videos, Sketches, mind maps and drawings, Face-to-face interviews with residents, workers, sellers, customers and visitors of the streets used for data collection.

Questioners were done for two stages during the process. First stage of questioners was given with a layout of the area, in which the participants marked the fear spots under four categories as, safe, comparatively safe, bit unsafe, and extremely unsafe. Then a set of pictures including closed end and open end questioners given to identify their level of fear of crime. Second stage of questionnaire included both open end and closed end questioners, which used to identify the effect of selected variables on each place.

Fourth chapter presents the data under three stages. First it identified six blocks for the study using two layouts shows crime hot spots (according to police crime records of Kotahena, 2014) and fear of crime related safe - unsafe spots identified by individuals through the first stage of the questionnaire. The second stage of the analysis identified the social and environmental variables in each block. The data of each variable presents as graphical presentations, shows peoples’ activity behavior (staying, sitting, gathering) with the time, density gender, and age variations and places, and street elements along the street (trees, street furniture, seating, steps, sidewalk café, light posts, water tap, open grounds, signage, fences and walls, graffiti, parking), And Graphical data (sketches, sections, elevations) present building quality and types (poorly maintained, glass facades, blank walls, retails, commercial, residential, office) and the H: W ratio between vertical depth of volumes and street width (building height, and open ground). During the third stage, the questioners participants analyzed according to the answers they provided during the questioner. Purpose of this stage is to give a depth to the analysis by observing the experiential perception of the user.