Third-party funded project

Perceptions of (In-)Security at Urban Places: Best Practices for Urban Design and Digital Planning

Research department: Economy and Civil Society

IRS Research Topic: New Social Practices New Vulnerabilities and Resilience Strategies

Project Leader within IRS: Prof. Dr. Gabriela Christmann

Consortium: Fraunhofer-Institut für Kurzzeitdynamik, Ernst-Mach-Institut (EMI), Efringen-Kirchen (Coordination) Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space Inter 3 Institut für Ressourcenmanagement GmbH, Berlin virtualcitySYSTEMS GmbH, Berlin

Funding Organization: Federal Ministry of Education and Research

Duration: 03/2018 - 05/2021

© Alper Çuğun
© Alper Çuğun

Guaranteeing the security of a city's inhabitants is a central task of urban policy, particularly so for structural-spatial planning. Policy and planning thus pursue the goal of improving areas perceived to be unsafe, or indeed to prevent the emergence and stigmatisation of no-go areas in the first place. The joint project “Stadtsicherheit3D”, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research, systematises the factors for spatial safety assessments, develops scenarios for intervention, catalogues best practices for policy and planning to date, develops new proposals for best practice on the basis of empirical analyses, and at the same time devises a digital planning tool intended to illuminate the corresponding planning processes using 3D city models.

The joint project carries the title “Assessment and Improvement of Urban Security aided by Semantic 3D City Models” and addresses gaps in research and deficits in knowledge in the area of urban security and digital planning. Working with three other group partners, the IRS research department “Dynamics of Communication, Knowledge and Spatial Development” is contributing its expertise in the fields of citizens' vulnerability perception , the role of digitalisation in the communicative construction of spaces, as well as the mediatisation of planning processes through the use of digital tools. Head of Department Prof. Dr. Gabriela Christmann will lead the sub-project “Perceptions of (In-)Security at Urban Places: Best Practices for Urban Design and Digital Planning”.

Urban security will be considered in the context of the project as a multi-layered phenomenon. The following factors that possibly endanger the security of citizens will thus be focused on in the overall project: a lack of visibility in urban spaces (e.g. owing to protrusions or niches) and inadequate lighting in individual urban areas, but also restricted audibility (e.g. of calls for help, owing to traffic noise), or the threat of terrorist attacks.

There has been no systematic social-science research to date on urban spaces perceived as (in)secure together with their structural-spatial factors. Indeed, the “absence of morphological mapping” of corresponding structural-spatial factors has long been lamented in the international research literature.
The IRS will, from a social-science perspective, be closing a gap with this sub-project. In its first phase it addresses the problem by developing and implementing a novel, multi-methodical approach for morphological mapping. This approach will link together the perceived vulnerability of an area on the one hand, with concrete material characteristics in the form of structural-spatial factors on the other. What's more, the project will also methodically implement conceptual considerations of previous IRS research concerning vulnerability and resilience from a socio-spatial perspective.

Citizens' perception of (in)security) in urban areas will first of all be collected using the “go-along” and “thinking aloud” methods. Geotagged photographs of the city areas considered (in)secure will then be produced. In a second step, structural-spatial factors that citizens perceive and label as (in)secure will be identified. At a later point, these factors will be catalogued and both qualitatively and quantitatively described. For the quantitative description, detailed measurements will be carried out (using laser rangefinders, light meters, and sound-level meters). From this basis, the structural-spatial factors will be visualised in the form of hybrid maps. The citizens participating in the research will include men and women, people from various age groups, and Germans and migrants; security experts will also be included among the participants.

Crucial to the project is the fact that the IRS data will be submitted for further processing to the other group partners, whose backgrounds are in such disciplines as mathematics and computer science. The data will be algorithmically developed in order that the morphological structures and characteristics of (in)security can be better understood. The partners will work closely together in this regard. Software developers also belong to the group, so that safety-assessment and modelling software can be developed on the basis of the data and the 3D city models. This software should in the future serve planners as a digital planning tool. Best practices for planning and city policy will be developed in light of the findings on morphology of (in)security in urban areas.
The project is thus of particular interest for the IRS' research on digitalisation, but also with regard to innovations in planning, as in the second phase planners will be considered and surveyed. On one hand, there will be planners who work with a preliminary version of the 3D planning tool. On another, experts on digital planning with be interviewed. The aim is to gain insight into the future of digital planning in general, the potential of digital urban-security planning tools in particular, and the potential for innovation in planning on the basis of such digital tools.

Photo: © Alper Çuğun/


Forschungsverbund Stadtsicherheit-3D, & Christmann, G. (2021). Stadtsicherheit-3D. Die subjektive Sicherheitswahrnehmung im Blick: Ein Handlungsleitfaden für Sicherheitsbewertungen mittels einer 3D-Planungshilfe. Fraunhofer-Institut für Kurzzeitdynamik, Ernst-Mach-Institut.
Christmann, G., & Töppel, M. (2021). Der sozialwissenschaftliche Ansatz zur Vermessung und Kartierung von Unsicherheitsfaktoren. In F. SD. (Ed.), Stadtsicherheit-3D. Die subjektive Sicherheitswahrnehmung im Blick: Ein Handlungsleitfaden für Sicherheitsbewertungen mittels einer 3D-Planungshilfe (pp. 16-17). Fraunhofer-Institut für Kurzzeitdynamik, Ernst-Mach-Institut.
Christmann, G., & Töppel, M. (2021). Ergebnis der Begehungen: Die Wirkung baulich-räumlicher Faktoren auf die (Un-)Sicherheitswahrnehmungen von Stadtbürger:innen. In F. SD. (Ed.), Stadtsicherheit-3D. Die subjektive Sicherheitswahrnehmung im Blick: Ein Handlungsleitfaden für Sicherheitsbewertungen mittels einer 3D-Planungshilfe (pp. 18-21). Fraunhofer-Institut für Kurzzeitdynamik, Ernst-Mach-Institut.