Plattenbauten: Fear of crime is growing

Structural and social interventions do not reduce concern among the population

Advertising for a problem area: Life in Gropiusstadt should be fun - but at least be sure. © MPG
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The view from the 30th floor of a skyscraper in Berlin's Gropiusstadt is overwhelming - but many do not want to live here. At the same time, social and structural "rehabilitation measures" of high-rise quarters in Europe should miss a better image in recent years. Sociologists have now investigated whether this has reduced criminal offenses and tenants actually feel better. Result: Despite high investments, the sense of security has declined in recent years - but the actual crime rate as well.

Monotonous facade fronts and dark street canyons. The large housing estates Marzahn in former East Berlin and Gropiusstadt in the west of the city are considered problem areas. The inhabitants of tenements feel more and more threatened - although the case numbers of the crime statistics in both areas decrease slightly - an obvious gap between perception and reality. This is also shown in the study conducted by an international group from England, Hungary, Poland and Germany within the framework of a European funding program. The sociologist Tim Lukas from the Max Planck Institute for Criminal Law has led the investigations in Berlin.

Scary and attractive anyway?

The researchers' research question was whether architectural-architectural interventions in such high-rise quarters would counteract crime and whether residents would be less afraid of crime. The results of the study show that five years ago people were happier than today. However, although respondents in both Berlin areas felt less secure in 2005 than in 2000, Marzahn is astonishing with a success story: about 75 percent of tenants even find their area attractive.

This and other findings were obtained by the researchers in written interviews. 500 residents over the age of 18 provided questionnaires about their attitude towards crime and feelings of insecurity. The researchers deliberately chose to compare two high-rise settlements that were created in the east and west before the fall of the Berlin Wall. "Many prefabricated buildings were then raised and were considered achievements of modernity, " says Lukas in the latest issue of the research magazine MaxPlanckResearch. "But a few decades later, the paint crumbled."

Renter loss and loss of image

Since the mid-1980s, many large housing estates suffered from tenant shrinkage and loss of image. Youth violence and vandalism spread in the anonymous street canyons. Modernization programs and urban development should bring the turnaround and give the high-rise complexes a tenant boost. display

"Urban development programs such as the Social City were aimed at improving the living space and should enhance the image, " explains Lukas. A safe life and low crime should follow. Whether it really is like that, the researchers asked in the different countries. The results are surprising: The security feeling sank despite high investments. Nine out of ten Gropiusst dtern drive only with bad gut feeling at night by public transport. In Marzahn, on the other hand, fewer people are anxious. According to the researchers, this is due to the high proportion of older tenants in Gropiusstadt. "They are basically more anxious than younger people, " adds Lukas.

The fear factor is partly in conflict with slightly falling crime statistics. Although per capita crime in 2004 dropped below the starting value of 125 in 2000 at 116 per 1, 000 inhabitants, people there are considerably more insecure than in the eastern counterpart. In Marzahn, crimes have fallen slightly over the past year, but still just over a quarter higher than in 2000. This unexpected satisfaction in the East is particularly due to tenants' attachment to their environment and lower isolation.

Fight growing feelings of fear

The researchers also found this result in high-rise housing estates in Krakow and Budapest: the higher the attachment of people to their quarters, the safer they feel. The researchers also wanted to know if the time factor influences the attachment to the neighborhood. "The literature always assumes that the neighborhood contacts get better and the bond to the neighborhood higher, the longer you live there, " says the sociologist Lukas: "We could not verify that in our survey can. "

According to the researchers' findings, a solution must now be found to combat the growing fear despite stable crime statistics. Measures such as the Conciergemodell, a kind of multi-functional caretaker and contact person, have already shown success and partially increased social control. In addition, targeted leisure activities and social meeting places can better integrate the inhabitants.

(idw - MPG, 03.08.2007 - DLO)