It brought to mind other concept errors in crime and place research, specifically crime generators, permeability, cul de sacs, and the Achilles Heel within routine activity theory. This time the mystery cycles around guardianship.
Here’s the storyline…
Researchers regale the power of natural surveillance to enhance guardianship. Guardianship presumes to increase the risk that offenders will be seen and caught. Natural surveillance has appeal because you can observe whether a space has lighting, sightlines and nearby windows. Because surveillance presumably will produce more preventive action by residents (or reluctance by offenders to show up), you can then measure what happens.
EYES ON THE STREET
Natural surveillance assumes that people who see something out of place will act, thereby providing guardianship. Thus it is “real”. It's an assumption borne out nicely in low-crime, upper income areas but not so much in lower-income, high crime areas where residents are afraid to step outdoors and when they do their presence doesn’t deter anything.
On the other hand researchers question the power of territoriality to enhance guardianship, mainly because they say territoriality lacks "definitional rigor" and it isn’t “real”. Floral decorations or landscaping…is that it? Maybe it’s access control, walls and gates? Even worse, territoriality varies from place to place. Horrors!
They suggest natural surveillance is preferable to territoriality because it seems more measurable. That’s how they solve the mystery of territoriality. They ignore or downplay it, label it with definitional problems and claim it isn't "real".
Historian Howard Zinn warns us about such storylines: “Realism is seductive because once you have accepted the reasonable notion that you should base your actions on reality, you are too often led to accept without much questioning someone else’s version of what that reality is.”
Consider this: If territoriality isn’t real, then how is guardianship any better? And why shouldn’t territoriality vary from place to place? “The real world,” says Zinn, “is infinitely complex and constantly changing.”
Perhaps social science research methods are too simplistic to tell us anything complex? Perhaps it is guardianship that has a definitional problem, especially given territoriality’s much longer provenance.
What provenance? Consider Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities, Robert Ardry’s The Territorial Imperative, Edward Hall’s The Hidden Dimension, Oscar Newman's Defensible Space, and Alice Coleman's Utopia on Trial. And all that territorial work still continues today such as Kevin Leydon’s study on walkability and social capital.
CPTED practitioners seldom complain about such things because context always comes first.
For example in SafeGrowth practitioners and residents use a Risk Assessment Matrix for surveys, safety audits, site visits, and asset maps. Together they create a profile of the neighborhood and what residents feel about it. Only then do they determine to what extent designs enhance territoriality.
Overcoming "definitional rigor"?
Simple: Ask the residents and work with them to discover what they feel enhances their territorial control, a method known as action research and action learning. Mystery solved.