I was really pleased when residents in my block of flats voted recently against becoming a gated community – or at least against locking the gates we already, unfortunately, have installed. I don’t want to live in something that feels like a prison, when you have to rattle keys to get to your front door, with the gate clanging shut behind you as you walk towards it. And I think that having people around in the communal garden, a pleasant, social environment, as we have now – I regularly say hello to at least 20 of my neighbours, and know some people who use it as a walkthrough – is much better security than a lockdown that screams “something to fear here!”.
I found academic backing for that instinct in Anna Minton’s Ground Control, in which she concludes (talking here about the awful One Hyde Park in London where apparently the penthouses have bulletproof glass, iris scanners, purified air and panic rooms) “no matter how much military hardware is installed, the aim of creating a maximum security environment to make people feel safer is doomed to failure because … security is as much an emotional as a physical state”. (p. 66) (Even the attempt by owners to secure themselves against stamp duty has apparently failed.)
There’s evidence, as Minton wrote recently in the Guardian, that CCTV makes people feel less secure. I’d very much like to get rid of the one in our garden – and not just because of its recent controversy. Minto: “One of the most important studies is by criminologist Jason Ditton, who carried out a study for the Scottish Office of CCTV in Glasgow, which found that recorded crime actually increased after CCTV had been installed …. the majority of people supported its introduction and believed that it would make them feel safer, but the findings after CCTV was put in showed that there was no improvement in feelings of safety.” (p. 169)
She reports on the case of a Dutch architect brought to Liverpool astonished by public housing estates surrounded by walls and CCTV. Hans Van der Heijiden, she reports, worked for six years with local people in Fazakerley, consulting on a proposed scheme, more continental in design and relying on the presence of people for security, but the “Secured by Design” certificate was unlikely to be granted on this basis, so the scheme fell through, the architect was sacked, and a new one built a “traditional”, prison-like structure. His words on consultation are telling: “The consultation process was a big book with procedures we had to follow with boxes to tick. An enormous amount of money was spent on it – venues were rented and bus services were provided.” But their support for his scheme was ignored.