BEYOND HOT SPOTS: using space syntax to understand dispersed patterns of crime risk in the built environment

Bill Hillier
University College London

The spatial analysis of crime patterns has been conceived of almost entirely in terms of the analysis of clusters of crime occurrence, or ‘hot spots’. However, as Newman observed (Newman 1972), occurrence is not the same as risk. For example, a busy street may have a higher number of street crimes that a quiet street, and so will appear as a hot spot, even though much higher movement rates may mean that the risk to individuals is lower than in locations with less crime (Alford 1999). The spatial pattern of risk may in effect take the form of a dispersed pattern of types of location rather than a set of spatial clusters. The appropriate technology for analysis of such dispersed patterns is space syntax, which can not only characterise spatial location types in a numerical way but has also been shown to reflect other kinds of crime related patterns in the built environment, such as movement flows (Hillier & Iida 2005) and land use types and mixes (Hillier 2000), so allowing us to relate patterns of crime more precisely to the dynamics of city life (Hillier 2004. Hillier & Shu 2000, Hillier & Sahbaz 2005). Here we show how the use of space syntax in the study of a very large data base of residential burglary and street crime can bring to light some unexpected relations between the physical, spatial and social characteristics of the built environment on the one hand, and the spatial patterns of different crime types on the other.

Joint work with Ozlem Sahbaz, Department of Geomatic Engineering, University College, London

Key references: Newman O (1972) Defensible Space MacMillan, New York p 109; Alford V (1996) Crime and space in the Inner City Urban Design Studies 2, 45-76; Hillier B & Iida S (2005) Network and Psychological Effects in Urban Movement Spatial Information Theory LNCS 3693 Springer 475-490; Hillier, B. (1999) Centrality as a process: accounting for attraction inequalities in deformed grids Urban Design International 3/4, 107-127; Hillier, B. (2004). Can Streets Be Made Safe? Urban Design International 9(1): 31-45; Hillier B & Sahbaz O High resolution analysis of crime patterns in urban street networks Proceedings of the Fifth Space Syntax Symposium, University of Delft 2005.

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