Successful places, safe spaces

Heidi Pollmann, ASLA, LEED AP, Landscape Architect and Project Manager, and Terry Berkbuegler, ASLA, Landscape Architect and Principal, Brian Clark + Associates, Kansas City, Missouri

In an effort to design safer communities and improve the quality of life, we may have forgotten some of the most important factors in creating safe and successful places. As development continues to sprawl with homes and businesses located farther apart, traditional criminal behavior controls such as "self policing" become more difficult. Walkable communities are being redesigned to better accommodate automobiles, reducing pedestrian traffic. A reduction in dense, mixed-use developments has decreased around-the-clock street life. Criminal behavior and undesirable activities are more likely to occur in areas with little activity. For these reasons and many others, safety and security are issues which must be addressed on all projects.

As designers, it is important to understand the communities in which we work and the needs of the residents in these communities. The local police department can be a valuable resource. Officers are aware of local trends, problem areas and the most successful ways for reducing crime in a specific locale.

Experience has shown that even the most basic improvements can build a sense of pride and renewed respect in a community. Brian Clark + Associates led a project to design new sidewalks, curbs, streetlighting and crosswalks adjacent to Budd Park in Kansas City, Missouri. These simple but long-neglected infrastructure improvements have resulted in reduced litter and vandalism as well as an increase in appropriate park use by the neighborhood.

At the H&R Block headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri, planters separate pedestrian traffic from vehicular traffic while pedestrian lighting illuminates the sidewalk. Low plant materials maintain views into and out of buildings. (Photograph courtesy of Brian Clark + Associates)

In more site-specific applications, site planning, building siting and landscape design all play an important role in creating safe and healthy environments. Used effectively, structures, fences, specialty paving, signage, lighting and landscape materials can help to clearly define public and private spaces. These elements should be located so as to allow users and residents to hear and see activity. Legitimate users can identify trespassers, creating a deterrent to potential criminals. Plant materials should not block views of entries, windows or gathering spaces; however, where appropriate, dense and thorny plantings may be used successfully as a tactile buffer. Ongoing maintenance is critical as it communicates proactive property management.

It is commonly understood that site lighting is directly related to safety and crime prevention. However, many important factors are often overlooked. Direct glare, high light levels and light color can counteract the intended result by making visibility and discernment of color more difficult. Lighting should be designed to provide for good color rendition and facial recognition.

In order to plan facilities that are safe and attractive, upgrade outdated areas or to simply evaluate an existing property, it is important to incorporate the perspective of landscape architects and lighting designers. Avoid the common mistakes by planning ahead and taking a comprehensive approach to site design.

Brian Clark + Associates is a professional consulting firm comprised of landscape architects and planners, with offices located in downtown Des Moines, Iowa; Kansas City, Mo.; and Sioux Falls, S.D. The scope of the firm's work includes a wide range of public, educational, institutional, and private sector projects. Heidi Pollmann can be reached at (816) 531-7227 or; Terry Berkbuegler can be reached at (816) 531-7227 or