Beyond Urban Myopia

Usually, when people think of a rural area, they picture it as a peaceful place free of confrontation, aggression, and criminal activities. As soon as we create this impression, we want to sharpen our urban myopia when it comes to dealing with rurality and serious criminal situations. Thinking of a rural area as a homogeneous block of native landforms with farmers working in agriculture perpetuates this illusion.

Contrary to metropolitan environments, a village’s population and spatial distribution are highly different, and the settlement pattern is determined by variables like occupational pattern, religion, caste, and the proximity of public services and religious institutions. Tracing any rural spatial setting reveals that the dwellings in villages are observed to be spaced apart from one another, resulting in the establishment of spaces of isolation. A situation where one feels alone, unheard, and unnoticed can surely be a catalyst for criminality.

How can architects help decrease the amount of Rural Crime by introducing Community Safety - Sheet1
The image which fits the urban definition of a rural setting _©UmarShaikh

Rural places in such a state lose their guardian characteristics due to the sparsely populated, low-density residential setting. Architecture can be designed with consideration for natural surveillance, resulting in fewer isolated locations and a decreased perception of being invisible and unobserved.

Rural settings show that the inhabited spaces are less populated, less compact, and more alienating. Criminal encroachment may escalate in such a situation. As a result, the territoriality of clusters through design can give intruders the impression that they are approaching private property, which is neither too closed so that it loses the visual connection with other residents nor too open so that it can constantly provoke intrusion. Bamboo stick barriers can be used to add territoriality to a design while also being affordably priced. Intruders will feel as though they are about to enter private property due to the restriction on their freedom of movement.

In contrast to tall concrete boundary walls, these weak bamboo stick barriers do not convey fear. The goal of architecture is to create places that are less secluded and less conducive to crime.

Community safety and architecture

The purpose of architecture as a tool is to integrate rather than alienate communities. A building should be designed with the notion that it will be a social setting where people will interact with it and its inhabitants. Architecture’s job is to support these communicatively structured environments rather than eliminate them. Visual connection encourages people to become more sympathetic to the plight of others and challenges individuals who feel unnoticed and are inclined to perpetrate crimes.

The only way to lessen the sensation of social isolation is by putting in place natural surveillance mechanisms. It should be emphasized that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all design when it comes to protecting targets of crime because both crime and the criminal scene vary with the circumstances. Another essential element of design for crime prevention is that it shouldn’t be forced from above; rather, it should have grown out of the users and occupants of the context, providing an indigenous solution to the issue.

Designing a space so that it is capable of maintaining visual connectivity with its users, bystanders, and others near the space under consideration is known as “natural surveillance.” It is an effort made by the people to put eyes on each other, inadvertently and voluntarily. Therefore, the design ought to be such that it includes members of the community. Additionally, it will give the area a sense of propriety and belonging. People may be forced to give up the feeling of a private space in the backyard due to this natural surveillance through architecture.

How can architects help decrease the amount of Rural Crime by introducing Community Safety - Sheet2
An animal fair becomes a social hub in a rural area _© SandeepaChetan

The introduction of unique events and gatherings, such as animal markets, rural fairs, or festivals, which would draw substantial footfall to even a less monitored rural area, increasing the number of visual contacts, might also stimulate natural surveillance through design. Yes, natural monitoring may not be sufficient to deter crimes on its own, but it can establish a visual link between the offender, the crime scene, and bystanders. As space comes to life, it combats alienation and fosters a sense of belonging among those who are present. Bystanders step in during criminal behaviour in such circumstances to prevent it from starting in the first place.

We agree that architects cannot reduce crime through their designs when strict laws fail to do so. However, they can help with the design of areas where such concerns of isolation may be addressed, which will serve to foster a sense of guardian connection and undoubtedly reduce crime. One would rather move through a well-lit street than through a shady area. Because a dark spot is a preferred location for criminals since they want to remain undetected and unnoticed while they commit a crime, the presence of light establishes a visual connection.

Demography and the Rural Setting

The geographical demarcation for caste, religion, and occupation-based settlement is easily traceable inside Indian rural settings, which have invisible borders. In such a complex social structure, crime against disadvantaged groups—including crime against women—goes unreported and unnoticed, making it difficult to socialize even in public places. Therefore, concepts like “natural monitoring” and “guardian behaviour” seem too European in an Indian context in many crime scenes where criminals co-exist in that particular spatial setting rather than being intruders.

How can architects help decrease the amount of Rural Crime by introducing Community Safety - Sheet3
In a traditional rural setting, bamboo fencing serves to define territoriality _© wzccindia

Unfortunately, only reported incidences are taken into account in determining criminality, so many unreported incidents aren’t even counted as crimes in rural areas. Crimes against women are among those crimes that are occasionally overlooked. Given this circumstance, a government initiative to construct private toilets in rural areas should be considered by the architectural community to address community safety concerns in rural areas.

 

Water, Sanitation, Hygiene (WASH) Initiative by UNICEF _© UNICEF

Human psychology is significant to physical environments because architecture influences conduct. Common interactive space, where residents discuss matters of common interest, can be a mechanism for expressing cultural values and concerns that can bring people together and blur the invisible borders between their and our worlds. Because social connection can help remove these barriers and promote the acceptance of coexistence, isolation breeds fanaticism, where one idea is echoed and made to seem like the only true one. As a result, the ideas of natural surveillance and guardian behaviour can help reduce crime.

Insurgent Citizenship by James Holston, which examines rural authoritarianism in Brazil, presents a case for the effectiveness of neighbourhood security in lowering rural crime. Every citizen has a right to live in safer neighbourhoods where they are at peace and may move around freely.

Reference:

Katyal, Neal K., “Architecture as Crime Control” (2002). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. 1886.Available at:  https://scholarship.law.georgetown.edu/facpub/1886 (Accessed: November 4, 2022).

Author

Sadiq Zafar is a practicing architect, urban policy researcher, and planner who previously worked for a national research institute and held the position of assistant professor at the Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi. He researched urban poor housing neighborhoods while working as a sustainability planner in Gonda, Uttar Pradesh.

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