Danger is not where you expect

Guardian writer George Monbiot has created quite a stir with an article entitled The Grime behind the Crime in which he reports research finding links between levels of lead pollution and violent crime. Serious scientists were interviewed about this on the radio this morning, and it seems as if the research is pretty watertight. They are showing correlation not causation, but it is fairly easy to imagine a cause. Lead poisoning is known to show brain damage, and damaged brains can easily be imagined losing inhibitions against violent acts.

This reminds me of the assertion by the authors of Freakonomics that legalised abortion in the US helped to bring down crime. Again their assertion was based on statistics, and again they had a reason – fewer unwanted children grew up in misery to become criminals.

What does all this have to do with architecture? Yesterday Building Design covered a report by the New Economics Foundation which said that Secured by Design techniques were cutting off school students by turning them into fortresses. The report was co-written by Anna Minton whose excellent book Ground Control argues, among other things, that living in gated environments increases people’s perception of threat. Presumably the same will be true of children in ‘gated’ schools?

In a week in which the sociologist Jared Diamond has a new book out on the lessons that we can learn from traditional societies, including the fact that children need to learn about risk by experiencing it, it is worth asking again whether our ever escalating security measures are counter-productive – especially when the factors that influence crime seem to be so different from what we have all fondly believed.







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