Can Wellington's revitalised laneways ward off crime?
In the shadows, crime will flourish.
So goes the Broken Windows Theory – the concept in criminology invoked to clean up 1980's New York's subways.
It suggests that an urban space that appears lawless – dark, full of nooks and crannies, graffiti and debris – will breed petty crime. The fear was a defaced area would in turn would attract worst crime, such as danger to those who walk through it.
The problem facing New York's authorities was turnstile jumping in the city's dark, dingy subways, where even normally law-abiding folk were dashing to avoid paying for tickets.
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The Broken Windows Theory's proponents were consulted to transform New York's subterranean networks in hope that if they were brighter and neater, people would no longer feel confident about breaking the rules.
Over the past two years, new bars, restaurants, urban art and gardens have sprung up in central Wellington's backstreets, including Hannah's Laneway, and Egmont St, drawing comparisons with Melbourne's bustling, dining-packed lanes.
However there's another practical reason for the $5.5 million investment in laneways in Wellington City Council's ten year plan – linking back to the Broken Windows Theory – which police think is starting to bear fruit.
Police say they are starting to see changes to inner city behaviour since the council's urban design team began applying Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles to Wellington's laneways' redesign.
CPTED demands areas be well-lit, that users can see clearly what's ahead of them, that the lines between public and private spaces are obvious, and the space is easily maintained.
Wellington City Council urban design manager Trudy Whitlow said the laneways were not just about beautification, they also offered "passive surveillance", that meant even if there was no-one to be seen an area's brightness and windows could give the impression wrongdoing could be witnessed, and passersby would also feel safer: "people feel like they are being watched."
Cable Car Lane's makeover underway. Holland St, behind the St James Theatre, Lukes Lane, off Taranaki St, and Swan Lane, between Marion and Cuba Streets, are due next.
City neighbourhood policing team Constable Matt Barraclough said, anecdotally, police were finding people up to no good were avoiding the revitalised laneways.
The carpark off Egmont St laneway used to be home to loitering, assaults, drinking and vandalism, but had become a less frequent stop on the late night police beat.
"I know I have noticed, myself – and so have other officers – these places that have been done up like Eva St towards the end of the year that used to be quite a dark and dingy space that was sort of a regular go-to for us for crime ... now that it's been done u ... I certainly haven't noticed the same sort of activity."
Barraclough said it was possible urban crime was being displaced elsewhere, but he thought the laneway revitalisation was making it harder for people up to no good to find nooks to do business in: "They tend to steer away from brightly lit places they may be able to seen."
He hoped to analyse the police crime hot-spot maps in 2017 to see whether the laneways were indeed shifting offending.
He suspected the public seemed more likely to report antisocial behaviour and vandals' damage in a tidy area – rather than just accept it as just part of urban scenery.
"Having a spot that people sort of take pride in creates a lot more guardianship."