Design Like You Give a Damn – Violence Prevention Through Urban Upgrading

Khayelitsha, a township of cape Town, South Africa, was established in 1985 during the apartheid era. It has experienced some of the highest crime rates in the Western cape. In 2003, the area reported 358 murders, 5888 sexual crimes and more than 3000 incidents of violent assault, according to the Crime Information Management Centre of the South African Police Sevices. At night, it was unsafe to return from work, and the township, which has few paved roads or formal structures, was difficult to patrol.

Recognizing that the many factors leading to the area’s high crime rate were often interlinked, the city of Cape Town, German Federal Ministry for Economic Develeopment, South African Treasury and Khayelitsha Development Forum called for the creation of a neighberhood- wide strategy. An initial baseline survey identified the top three crimes, which were murder, rape and robbery. However, rather than using a geographic information system (GIS) to identify areas prone to crime and develop social and architectural interventions.

The result was a $57 milion, five-year pilot program called Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading. The prgram’s commonsense approach resulted in a 33 percent reduction in murder in 2009 in Harare, the first area where it was implemented, with almost no incidents of murder reported in public spaces? Public perceptions have changed as wel, with 48 percent of people surveyed in 2011 reporting they felt safety was improving compared to only 21 percent in 2007 when the program began.

Specifically, the program focuses on reducing crime by identifying where crime takes place and making small, but targeted interventions at the spots where crime is most likely to happen (referred to by VPUU as “Hot Spots”). These interventions may be as small as removing vegetation that predators could use as cover or as large as a community center and park.

Interventions (reffered to as “Active Boxes” by VPUU to connote the concept of activating a public space) are strategically located so that predestrians are always in view in high crime areas. “The Active Boxes are a good illustration of how an integration of built, social and place management interventions can transform percieved dangerous spaces into positive and owned spaces,” explains Michael Krause, director of Sustainable Urban Neighberhoods development, the implenting partner of VPUU.

The program sets strict standards for architects designing interventions and designs are reviewedby a community board, “The buildings don’t have hideway corners or nooks where people can hide and observe as you approach the building. In addition to changes in the built environment, investments are made in social programs such as neighberhood policing and rape prevention in the same areas.

One of the projects that illustrates VPUU’s holistic approach is the Ncomu Road Urban Park. At one corner of the park is the Ncomu Road Urban community building designed by the firm ARG Design with Architecture for Humanity. Operated by Grassroots Soccer, the Footbal for Hope Centre and adjacent football pitches offer sports and youth leadership training as well as HIV/AIDS education.

The park’s buildings are not enclosed by fences or gates as it is typical in South Africa. Instead, they engage with the street. At night, a caretaker guards the new pafk from a second-story flat with 360-degree sightlines, offering an “eyes on the street” view and creating a place where residents can seek help if they feel threatened; The park also includes a playground for young children and is navigated by well-let, paved pedestrian pathways. Throughout the area, silirar “Active Boxes” have been built or are planned to ensure safe passage for residents. To date, there are a total of 10 completed prokjects that aim to reduce crime in seven crime Hot Spots; VPUU’s success in Harare helped it secure funding untill 2014, and the city plans to expand the program throughout the township.

LOCATION Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa

DATE 2006 – 2014

IMPLENTING AGENCIES City of Cape Town, Kreditanstalt fur Wiederaufbau (German Development Bank)


ASSOCIATED FIRMS ARG Design, Charlotte Chamberlain & Nicola Irving Architects, Jonker & Barnes Architects, Macroplan Townplanners, Masimanyane Community participation, Partners for Impact, Naylor & Van Schalkvwyk, Talani Quantity Surveyors, Tarna Klitzner Landscape Architects.

ADDITIONAL CONSULTANTS Masimanyanyane Management Consultancy

FUNDERS TCity of Cape Town; German Development Bank; provincial and national South African funding; private sector funding

PROGRAM COST 400 million South African rand/$55.6 million USD

2 thoughts on “Design Like You Give a Damn – Violence Prevention Through Urban Upgrading

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s