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Why is it important to activate neighborhood defensible spaces?

Posted by : Shikha, Doha, Qatar, Architect | Urban Planning | Researcher
09 May, 2021 15:26:01

Though the concept of neighborhood planning became popular only in 1920s (Clarence Perry), the idea (or ideal) of community is as old as the oldest civilizations. While neighborhood is referred to a functional physical setting, a community is more of a “social way”. Even today, while trying to make our neighborhoods self-sustaining, social sustainability plays a significant role. Fostering territoriality in neighborhoods is bound to fail if community-oriented tactics are not given due importance.


For example, the neighborhood of Shivajinagar, Bangalore, India. With strong historical roots, this neighborhood exercises variety of densely populated communities (residential, commercial and mixed) within a radius of 2 square kilometers in the center of the city. Organic development of originally planned courtyard blocks has now been replaced by new building units, leaving very little community sharing space. The daily life and tactics performed by people has confirmed their willingness to cooperatively share these defensible spaces. Though not provided with facilities and basic utilities, these residue spaces defend themselves by choreographing the platform with variety of users all day long. A sense of ownership and belonging makes it a successful space. 


One of the primary purposes to stimulate territorial feelings among residents is to make our communities safer, making sure “eyes (are) on streets”. This can only be achieved by resident’s participation in multi using the spaces without enforcing government regulations. The purpose of defensible space broadens with growing economy, pressure on climate and need to create healthy common space, especially during current pandemic times. Theoretically framed as a principle of crime prevention (by Oscar Newman), defensible spaces have now outreached its potential to serve more. In mixed use neighborhoods, these spaces serve as platforms to trigger social capital. Streets are informally used to conduct business or at time the formal shops pour out on the street. In residential neighborhoods, defensible spaces serve as a script to display the culture and values of people. This defines cultural security among residents and hence enables a stable urban environment. In old neighborhoods, these spaces preserve the heritage and art. Especially, during pandemic times, defensible spaces, even if it’s just a common balcony between apartments, act as an open space to get a break from enclosed spaces. 


In summary, with the onset of pandemic and urge to live in self-sustaining neighborhoods, there is a need to redefine the functions and functionalities of defensible spaces. Having realized the significant of defensible spaces, it is important to rethink of new tactics to activate these spaces. 

Mixed use street at Shivajinagar, Bangalore, India. Commercial shops opening up from low rise residences.