Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Assignment 4: Reading and Reviewing.

In our fourth and final assignment of semester one, we have been asked to choose one book and one journal article from the previous assignment to read in more depth and review. The book I have chosen is ‘The Environment and Social Behaviour’ by Irwin Altman and ‘Street Management and City Design’ by E.P. Fowler is the journal article that I will review.

‘The Environment and Social Behaviour’ is about human and social behaviour in relation to the physical environment. The books main purpose is to examine how we use the environment in the course of social interaction looking at four main concepts; privacy, personal space, territory and crowding. The author wants to tie these four concepts together as usually they are looked at separately by different disciplines.  He believes mixing disciplines such as social and natural science with practitioner disciplines, (architects and interior designers) will develop a greater understanding between the environment and social behaviour. The author believes that the concept of privacy is central and connects all four concepts. He will suggest that territorial behaviour and personal space are ways in which people try to regulate their desired level of contact with others. Crowding is where these measures have not worked ending up with undesired social contact.
Irwin Altman looks into his concepts of personal space, territorial behaviour and crowding more closely and uses secondary sources to inform his judgements. Within the subject of personal space a key source that was used was from an anthropologist Edward Hall (1966). Hall looked at four personal distance zones in his book ‘The Hidden Dimension’, and outlined hypothesised differences among cultures and spacing behaviour. This showed that people use space to communicate with one another and that different cultures use this space differently.
Within the concept of crowding Sommer (1969) is a source which shows how people respect boundaries which are not physical. Sommer analyses a neighbourhood in Chicago and observes a street which was dominated by blacks while the very next street was dominated by Irish whites the two rarely crossing over.
The author feels practitioners and designers must translate work to each other, understanding each other’s styles and accepting differences. Designers must bring together information such as other points of view, researchers’ knowledge, their own knowledge and practical demands when designing environments.  The physical environment must be shaped to fit man to help him perform affectively.  The conclusion the author believes to be most fruitful is designing flexible environments that can be manipulated and altered.
If we take this line of reasoning seriously, that when the physical environment is shaped to fit a person they perform better, we may begin to create environments that are changeable.  Then these changeable environments may for example dissolve tense situations or bring people closer together, all in all creating a more harmonious environment for people to live in. This may also lead to a decrease in crime as surroundings will be less threatening and will help create a positive atmosphere.

The journal article ‘Street Management and City Design’ looks at how city design and the physical environment affect human behaviour. The main purposes of this article are to firstly define the physical characteristics of the post war city and suburb. To then explore their significance for street level management. Finally the author wants to test Jane Jacobs’ hypothesis that physical diversity in cities encourages neighbours to relate to each other and discourages crime.
Jane Jacobs was a writer and an activist. Her primary interest was in communities, urban planning and decay. Her work is a key source for the author and her controversial book ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’ (1961) has been examined closely by Fowler.  Jacobs’ main theory was that lack of physical diversity in our cities discourages people from taking responsibility for the dull job of looking after our streets.  She felt that physical diversity could only be achieved if four points were met. These are; a mixture of land uses, concentration of uses, mixing old and new buildings and having short blocks. Jacobs’ felt that “physical design could help or hinder recognition of neighbours which in turn influenced a degree of informal control over street behaviour especially of children and outsiders”. She believed this informal control is the main ingredient in safer streets.  The author looks at Jacobs’ four points more closely in her article carrying out a study of her own to see if the physical environment does affect human behaviour.
Fowler analyses 19 areas which are handpicked, all to be as different as possible in relation to; land use, concentration of use, building age and block length. The data is collected through questionnaires, the Canadian Census, the police, maps, planning data and observation of the area.
The author found that part of Jacobs’ thesis was supported by the data, it supports the fact that effective neighbourhood management stems from physical diversity. The data agrees with Jacobs’ theory of mixing land use and having short blocks, as many residents in areas of high density combined with mixed land use, short blocks and new buildings  felt optimistic about the safety in that area.
This article suggests that lack of physical diversity in our cities have a negative effect on social behaviour resulting in higher crime rates. It suggests that to decrease this negative effect we would need to build more physically diverse cities. However this may not be straightforward as not everyone may want a city like this, to quote Gans some people may want “the quiet and privacy obtainable in low density neighbourhoods and elevator apartment houses.”

The two chosen texts that I looked at more closely have the same opinion that the physical environment affects people and their behaviour. Although their main topic is the same they both look into different issues. The first text, ‘The Environment and Social Behaviour’ suggests that environments should be created to be flexible so that a person can alter their contact with others depending on their mood, which would in turn decrease tense situations leading to a decrease in crime. The second text, ‘Street Management and City Design’ states that a more physically diverse city will create a more harmonious city.
 I feel these books have given a good insight into the environment and how it can affect human behaviour. Carrying out research of my own may help me achieve a better understanding of the environment and the affects it has on human behaviour. I think observing human behaviour in different parts of my city may be interesting. Finding out the different crime rates of specific areas and looking at the surroundings in these areas and how they differ from each other may be a useful starting point. Interviewing people who live in these areas and finding out what their lives are like and if they think that their area affects how they live and act might also prove useful. Doing this would create evidence that is specific to my city, I think it would also help me to understand the topic in greater detail as I would be experiencing first hand and creating my own opinions.
To get a broader understanding of what effects crime I think I should look more closely at the other books I found in assignment 3. The Price We Pay: Economic and Social Consequences of Inadequate Education’ by Clive Belfield and Henry Levin looks into the costs of investing in good education and not doing so. This could be something that affects someone’s life choices leading them to live in a certain area which in turn could affect their behaviour and whether or not they will commit crime.
I do feel that the book and the journal article that I have chosen to write about in this assignment were the most relevant to my chosen subject of how the environment can change people and cause them to commit crime.


Altman, Irwin. (1975) ‘The Environment and Social Behaviour’. Wadsworth Publishing Company, Inc.: Belmont, California.

Belfield, Clive, R. and Levin, Henry, M. (2007) ‘The Price We Pay: Economic and Social Consequences of Inadequate Education’.  The Brookings Institution: Washington D.C.

Box, Steven. (1987) ‘Recession, Crime and Punishment’. The Macmillan Press Ltd.: Basingstoke, Hampshire.

Dahlberg, Matz and Gustavsson, Magnus. (2007)’ Inequality and Crime: Separating the Effects of Permanent and Transitory Income’. Blackwell Publishing Ltd and the Department of Economics: University of Oxford.

Fowler, E.P. (1987) ‘Street Management and City Design.’ Social Forces, vol. 66, no. 2, pages 365-389

Hensworth, Simon. (2008) ‘Designing to Prevent Crime: Crime Prevention through Environmental Design.’ Architecture Australia, vol.97, issue 2, pages 111-112.

Jacobs, Jane. (1961) ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’.  Random House: New York 

Roncek, Dennis, W. (1981) ‘Dangerous Places: Crime and Residential Environment.’ Social Forces, vol.60, no. 1, pages 74-96.

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