Does the Crime Rate Drop By Changing Designs?

“Social problem-solving design” that changed our everyday life — life safety design

The SMG implemented a design policy in 2007 and carried out city-centered policies for landscape improvement to reinforce the city brand. As a result, Seoul won the Grand Prize at the Index Awards, renowned for “Design to Improve Life,” in 2011. While looking for ways to use the prize money that came with the award, the SMG thought of socially disadvantaged citizens who could not benefit from the design policy. The SMG took a new step forward with the “social problem-solving design” project, which aims to reduce the grievances of people who cannot benefit from policies due to various reasons like having a busy livelihood. Having launched its first life safety design project in 2012, the SMG strengthened the roles of design in solving various social issues. Instead of policies and macroscopic systems, the concept of design has been expanded to public design to solve problems of varying sizes that influence the lives of people.

The social problem-solving design projects of the SMG are divided into categories such as life safety design, cognitive health design, stress-free design, youth problem-solving design, and design governance. Each project utilizes the “service design” methodology, which derives relationship-centered solutions based on communication and awareness improvement beyond the improvement of the physical environment regarding social issues. This year, the social problem-solving design projects of the SMG marks its 10th anniversary. In celebration, we intend to take a close look at our surrounding environment and public design that have undergone small and large changes.

Relationship between crime and design — life safety design

From street corners on our way home to benches and exercise equipment while strolling on a nearby walking path as well as parks and community service centers available to all neighbors — what would it be like if we were to feel fear and anxiety whenever using such spaces connected to our everyday life? Can the public sector help solve problems in public places that individual residents cannot overcome? The crime prevention design project of the SMG started in recognition of this issue. Currently, the project has been renamed to “life safety design,” which allows people to understand the benefits and value of the project more easily instead of focusing on negative issues. The goal of this design is to prevent crime and reduce the fear of residents by improving the surrounding environment through design. Furthermore, this design can solve crime problems that occur in different places through active interest and communication of regional communities. The SMG proposes customized design solutions based on the belief that the overall security of a region can be strengthened by vitalizing the regional community.

There are differences in the application between the life safety design of the SMG and crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED). Unlike CPTED that mainly applies to the new urban design of city architecture as a strategy to prevent crime through the physical architectural environment, the life safety design of the SMG applies to vulnerable regions in existing urban districts. The service design methodology was introduced by combining the CPTED theory through environmental design and Design Against Crime (DAC), a crime prevention solution centered on products based on design thinking. The ultimate goal is to embody a sustainable life safety design project by suggesting user-centered problem-solving methods and revitalizing the community. The life safety design project of the SMG is focusing on spreading social responsibilities and the value of design. This is evidenced by winning the Grand Award and Bronze Award at the Design For Asia (DFA) Awards in 2014, receiving the Presidential Citation at the 3rd Korea Crime Prevention Awards in 2018, and winning the Grand Prize and Excellence Award at the SEGD Global Design Awards in 2019.


Vol. 1–3 published by the SMG. Volume 1 presents the general overview of life safety design; volume 2 contains the description of pilot projects carried out between 2012 and 2019 by year and type; and volume 3 provides manufacture drawings for each item of life safety design. / Photo: 516 Studio

Part 1. Residential Areas

: Yeomni-dong, Mapo-gu (2012, reserved area for redevelopment)

: Gasan-dong, Geumcheon-gu (2014, multi-unit, multi-family clustered area — honeycomb-type residence with small factories)

: Samyang-dong, Gangbuk-do (2015, area with empty and deserted houses)

Yeomni-dong in Mapo-gu marked the beginning of “life safety design” of the SMG in 2012. This neighborhood used to be a dark and remote place selected as a target of security reinforcement to protect the residents. The abandoned blind spots were gradually increasing due to the narrow and complex alley structure. One of the major issues of this area was the continued delay of development after being designated as a redevelopment site. After the native residents who lived in the area for a long time left this neighborhood, new tenants begin to move in quickly, causing the community spirit to be weakened with increasing accidents. Due to maze-like alleys, it was difficult to ask for help or explain current locations to the police. The surrounding environment with illegal parking, garbage piles, and heaps of postal mail gave an impression that the neighborhood was abandoned, increasing the possibility of potential crimes.

Yeomni-dong applied the “Salt Road Project” as its solution based on the salt warehouse that existed in this place. The strategy of the Salt Road Project was to have more eyes on the street. The project developed exercise courses based on the crime fear map drawn by residents as well as operated “Salt Keeper’s House” where residents can help one another during emergencies and “Salt Naru” to facilitate community activities. Courses A and B of the Salt Road were attached with lamps numbered 1 through 69 on telephone poles to guide the way. Numbered lamps became useful during the foot patrol of the police and played the role of signs for quickly identifying the current location during emergencies.


Yeomni-dong, Mapo-gu (2012, reserved area for redevelopment): Salt Road Map, Salt Keeper’s House / Data provided by the SMG

“Salt Naru” was directly run by the Yeomni Village Community as a community space on Salt Road by remodeling a deserted pumping station that used to arouse fear. The monitoring function was reinforced naturally by transforming the “most feared road” into a “pleasant road” where residents gather instead of becoming a place prone to crime. As a result, the number of major crimes reported was reduced by up to 22%, and the fear of crime decreased by 32%. In the comprehensive evaluation carried out after one year, the number of thefts nearby Salt Road decreased by 12%, and no rape was reported. Currently, Salt Road slipped from people’s memory with the commencement of the redevelopment of Yeomni Zone 4 in full swing.


Yeomni-dong, Mapo-gu (2012, reserved area for redevelopment): Salt Naru, numbered lamps / Data provided by the SMG

Gasan-dong in Geumcheon-gu had complicated alleyways due to the mixture of a honeycomb-type residential area and small factories. At night when factories closed, certain streets became deserted and made the entire region vulnerable to safety issues. The design solutions applied to this place were “Small Factory Protector” and “Alley Light,” which increase the predictability of crime. LED lights that were connected by cables in dark and narrow alleys, where visibility was limited, were installed for the Alley Light design to play classical music while people pass by. This solution was intended to provide psychological stability to pedestrians while deterring criminals from committing crimes. “Gasani” was created as a character that protects Gasan-dong, reflecting the characteristics of dogs that protect the houses. This branding activity was an effort to make a friendly environment that would raise the awareness of residents about the project.

The neglected underground parking lot space was turned into a community space called “Jikeem Maru.” It was used as a small library for students in the region after school and a place for residents to take a rest or gather during crime prevention patrols. Floor signs indicating the crime prevention design and access restriction signs were used to distinguish the domains. IP cameras and emergency bells for SOS requests were installed in various locations.


Gasan-dong, Geumcheon-gu (2014, multi-unit, multi-family clustered area — honeycomb-type residence): Jikeem Maru, Small Factory Protector, Alley Light / Data provided by the SMG

Samyang-dong in Gangbuk-gu was a region with safety concerns of children commuting to school due to many empty and deserted houses. Though it was a dangerous environment with the possibility of potential crime, the place was used by children as playgrounds and neglected without a solution, failing to discern the hazardous environment. Vegetable gardens that were cultivated randomly were filled with illegal dumping, which worsened the condition. Accordingly, a safety screen fence was designed first to conceal the ghastly deserted houses. The screen fence was also used as the neighborhood bulletin board and gallery of residents so that everyone could walk safely. Other unused spaces were turned into common vegetable gardens for residents to be used as an experience and learning space for children. “Samyang-dong Jikeem Maru” was installed next to vegetable gardens as a community space to make the area safer. This place became the foothold for gardening activities during the day and crime prevention activities at night.


Samyang-dong, Gangbuk-do (2015, area with empty and deserted houses): Safety screen fence, vegetable gardens / Data provided by the SMG

Part 2. Parks

: Sinwol 3-dong, Yangcheon-gu (2015, neglected and isolated park area)

: Yongdap-dong, Seongdong-gu (2016, Dulle-gil and walking path area)

: Gusan-dong, Eunpyeong-gu (2019, area nearby hill)

The life safety design has the diverse characteristics and domains of target sites as it was implemented as a solution to specific crime types. It became an opportunity to look into urban environments that were out of the picture and could become causes of minor crimes. One of such environments was parks. Parks are public places that should be available to all residents for free, but they were neglected with frequent problems such as violence caused by drunken people. 

The park located in Sinwol 3-dong, Yangcheon-gu lost its original purpose of being a children’s park and became a hideout for drunken passersby. Illegally parked cars and shrubs near the park created blind spots, hindering natural monitoring. Accordingly, a track was built for exercise along the boundary of the park, and floor contours of varying heights were installed in the blind spots where drinking took place. Benches that blocked the sight had been replaced by exercising and playground equipment for residents and children. In addition, the anti-crime checkpoint that failed to perform its roles was replaced by “Sinwol-dong Jikeem Maru” using a container to be used as a community space for mothers and children to monitor the park naturally.


Sinwol 3-dong, Yangcheon-gu (2015, neglected and isolated park area) / Data provided by the SMG

Dulle-gil in Yongdap-dong, Seongdong-gu was feared and avoided by nearby residents, despite being a fine embankment walkway and waterfront constructed along a stream. It is quite a long section, but it lacked a clear landmark to show the entry point. Seniors, the primary users, rested in the alleys and on stone walls at the park because they could not judge how far they had to go. Children often avoided walking in the park and walking path when commuting to school. Especially at night, bushes grown on the slope aroused visual anxiety. Therefore, playground equipment was installed using the natural environment as a solution to this problem. In this case, Dulle-gil and the walking path, regarded as dangerous areas in the past, had been turned into playgrounds and rest areas for residents, reducing the fear of crime.


Yongdap-dong, Seongdong-gu (2016, Dulle-gil and walking path area) / Data provided by the SMG

The neighborhood park located in Gusan-dong, Eunpyeong-gu, was an abandoned hill near the residential area. Residents feared this place due to the lack of crime prevention facilities. This place was not monitored properly and became a hotbed of juvenile smoking and delinquencies at night. The SMG paid attention to the fact that different groups of residents used the park at different times. A distinctive space was created by considering the activities of users at different times, and the “Geobukgol Neighborhood Park” was developed to make a safe walking path without blind spots to be linked with residential activities.

A forest experience ground was also built for all children visiting the park. Completed in collaboration with nearby schools and child facilities, it aimed to reinforce the natural monitoring function through the direct use of residents. Territoriality and safety of the park were improved by installing park entrance signs and path guide signs that indicate multi-branch paths formed naturally. In addition, the SMG tried to raise safety awareness by developing the “Turtle Course” with “People Finding Forests,” an organization that engages in vigorous walking activities. This was an important attempt to transform a neglected dismal hill from a dangerous place into a space for refreshment and resting.


Gusan-dong, Eunpyeong-gu (2019, area nearby hill) / Data provided by the SMG

Part 3. Markets

: Geumnam Market, Geumho-dong 2(i)-ga/3(sam)-ga, Seongdong-gu (2019, traditional market area)

Geumnam Market in Geumho-dong 2(i)-ga and Geumho-dong 3(sam)-ga, Seongdong-gu, is located in a place crowded by residential buildings. The market was always full of visitors and served as the center of convenience and exchange in the past. However, the market became a scary road for passersby as the commercial district deteriorated. When stores closed down, narrow streets turned into dark alleyways with bad visibility, and thus, people who faced emergencies had a difficult time figuring out the evacuation route. In spite of being a place crowded by many people, there was a problem of insensitivity to safety due to unnoticeable safety facilities.

Cooperation with merchants was extremely important to prevent crimes in the traditional market. The space in front of stores where customers see products was emphasized to be a safe passageway for residents after stores closed. It was also informed that merchants should participate in design activities to create a virtuous cycle and help reinvigorate the traditional market while securing the safety of the region. Accordingly, a Geumnam Market brand was developed to enhance the pride of merchants and raise awareness among residents that the market is being managed systematically.


Geumnam Market, Geumho-dong 3(sam)-ga, Seongdong-gu (2019, traditional market area) / Data provided by the SMG

The unique identity of Geumnam Market was applied to the main entrance gate, direction signs, aprons, and shopping baskets. Graphic content developed only for Geumnam Market was applied to security shutters. A timeline bulletin board was installed to tell the story and history of Geumnam Market, infusing life into the market. In addition, entrance sensor alarms and a monitor control system* reduced the possibility of criminal acts by perceiving persons passing by the entrance. Graphic signs providing information about market safety information allowed users to easily identify locations of safety facilities. *Monitor control system: A system that perceives motions of pedestrians in Geumnam Market using sensors and exposing them on the monitor through a masking technique (replacing faces by other images) While giving an impression that the area is controlled using cameras, the signs also provide safety information and advertise goods sold at stores.


Geumnam Market, Geumho-dong 3(sam)-ga, Seongdong-gu (2019, traditional market area) / Data provided by the SMG

The case of the SMG spread to other regions and resulted in enacting 244 ordinances by local governments and autonomous districts. As a result of the project, around 5,000 crime prevention design projects were carried out around the nation to date, and the Korean National Police Agency established the Crime Prevention Officer (CPO). In fact, the “Salt Road Project” in Yeomni-dong, Mapo-gu, produced numerous similar cases after it proved to be effective. However, some people came to incorrectly believe that the wall paintings and signage can prevent crimes. Since problems at different sites have varying domains and degrees, it is important to be aware that a specific solution is not to be applied uniformly. Regional characteristics and inclinations of residents must be analyzed to solve problems through design.

Category related contents
Hashtag related contents