Jacob R. Clark’s cover story for the December 31, 1995/January 15, 1996 issue of Law Enforcement News discusses architect and urban planner Oscar Newman’s “defensible space” theory of architecture and urban planning as a key contribution to the nation’s campaign against crime. Clark is particularly interested in the genesis of Newman’s ideas (which are documented on this archive’s entry for his book Defensible Space: Crime Prevention through Environmental Design) as they were informed by his visits to the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex in St. Louis, once a model for low-income, racially integrated living that was eventually demolished following years of disinvestment. The designer noted that in spite of what he saw as the poor quality of the development’s public spaces, private individual units were “lovingly decorated,” an observation which countered Newman’s initial assumptions about inhabitants’ character. Relatedly, he proposed that the city’s wealthier, “gated” streets and communities had experienced significantly less crime in the same period than the neighborhoods of public housing developments because residents had a legal basis upon which they could regulate “their” streets’ use.
Throughout the article, it is clear from Newman’s language, as recapitulated by Clark, that he perceives himself as occupying the ‘moral high ground’ with his work, recognizing that there is a limited window within which his techniques can benefit a declining community (referring to some “‘ghetto’” areas as “beyond saving”) and accordingly conceptualizing his approach as “triage.” Newman dismisses accusations that his work perpetuates racism, referring critics to the fact that the police are often his biggest supporters, though such a defense renders the article’s omission of firsthand accounts by city residents—especially from those who live in “defensibly” planned developments—quite conspicuous.