CPTED for public toilets

Applying CPTED to the design of public toilet facilities can be straightforward or offer serious challenges!

Preferably it is better to undertake Designing Out Crime or CPTED when designing both the public toilet and its environment in landscape.

If improving a public toilet to reduce existing crime levels or reduce the rate of anti-social behaviour incidents then it is necessary to focus on using CPTED to tackle specific issues rather than attempting to apply CPTED to everything.

This is because some CPTED strategies can compromise the functioning of the toilet provision. For example, natural surveillance goes against the privacy that toilet structures are meant to provide.

In addition, any CPTED intervention must also align with and satisfy the Australian "DESIGN STANDARDS for URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE 18 PUBLIC TOILETS"Available also from ACT government here.

CPTED principles in public toilet design

The most obvious CPTED principles to apply in design of public toilets or CPTED review of proposed public toilet designs are:

  • Passive surveillance
  • Access control
  • Territoriality
  • Defensible space
  • Lurk lines and protected egress/exit
  • Geographic juxtaposition
  • Activity support
  • Image management and maintenance
  • Routine activity theory
  • Opportunity theory

Criminal and antisocial behaviours in and around public toilets

Experience indicates that common criminal and antisocial behaviours that occur in and around to public toilets are:

  • Misuse - e.g. drug taking, prostitution, sleeping
  • Sexual crimes
  • Violence
  • Robbery

Challenges in CPTED design of public toilets

One set of challenges to using classic CPTED approaches is that of informal surveillance. An individual's use of a public toilet is, in essence, a private activity and a significant role of any public toilet building is to hide from public view what goes on inside. This acts against the requirements for maximising natural surveillance.

Another challenge is in the realm of of access control. The entry/exit to the public toilet building is on one hand preferably designed to limit the entry and egress of potential attackers. On the other hand, this means that those leaving a public toilet exit do so from a single point, making them an easier target.

In defensibility and territoriality terms, any individual typically uses a public toilet rarely and only for short periods of time. In contrast, potential attackers or mis-users of a public toilet have the opportunity to become more established in terms of it becoming their territory and using the built form of the public toilet for defense of their own activities.

Designing to avoid lurk-lines and entrapment points, and mimimising risks to uses when entering, using and leaving a public toilet are essential. For users to feel safe requires making it obvious to users that they are protected from risks of attack when visiting a public toilet. There are many ways of doing this in the design itself. Techniques include being able to see under doors, mirrors that enable users to see behind them or in otherwise hidden parts of the public spaces, maze entries that allow easy escape rather than using a two-door vestibule in which users do not know what is behind each door.

It is important to consider geographical juxtaposition both in the siting and detail design of public toilets. Geographical juxtaposition of high crime risk areas in proximity to a public toilet is likely to increase problems.

Activity support, however, can be applied in public toilets that are well-patronised. This can be undertaken outside the toilet in the near vicinity, and in some cases close to the toilet entry. Commonly activity support can be provided via shops or service providers and even by cafes. Many good examples (as well as some terrible examples!) can be found in well maintained rail stations and public transport hubs in larger metropoli.

In many cases, this is a natural fit because public toilets are commonly needed to service locations with relatively high crime risks such as bars, markets, tourism areas and other areas of high public use (in fact that is the reason the public toilet is needed!).

Image Management and Maintenance is the one CPTED method that almost universally acts to support both the functioning of the public toilet as a service, and to reduce crime and unwanted behaviours. Almost everyone prefers to use public toilets that are clean, well designed and well maintained. In contrast, poorly maintained and dirty public toilets indicate that they exist in a sort of un-owned state and can be taken over for other purposes.

Routine Activity Theory and Opportunity Theories can provide an excellent basis for design on the basis of understanding who is likely to use the public toilet and when (because of their routine activities). Additionally, these approaches offer the potential to identify when there may be possible co-location of potential opportunities for crime, individuals with criminal intent and potential defenders (or not).

Strategies for CPTED public toilet design

The usual seven processes of CPTED design apply

  1. Review crime risk data and identify the relative scale of crime risks and potential crime drivers in this specific location.
  2. Identify specific criminogenic risks that will be addressed by this CPTED design.
  3. Map the different regions of public/private space
  4. Identify CPTED principles and criminological theories and evidence that apply to this situation
  5. Use the map of public/private space and the CPTED principles and criminological theories to identify specific aspect of the design to reduce crime
  6. Review the design and the use of the above theories and principles to identify any adverse 'dark side' * outcomes. If so modify the design, rinse and repeat until satisfactory.
  7. When the built form is implemented, review the criminological outcomes over a significantly relevant period, report on the outcomes and modify the design as appropriate.

Review crime risk data

For the public toilet in question, ask what is known about reported crime incidents (police data?) and fear of crime data specific to the location.

In the case of designing an new public toilet facility the challenge is identifying useful, reliable and relevant crime risk and fear of crime data from suitably equivalent locations. A particular concern is identifying relevant geographic juxtaposition/environmental data about nearby crime attractors.

Identify criminogenic risk factors

In addition to identifying relevant crime data, it can be helpful to identify the criminogenic risk factors that are the causal basis for crimes happening at this location.

Map the regions of public/private space

The first practical design strategy is to map out, in CPTED terms, the different regions of the nearby environment and location in relation to the proposed public toilet design:

  • Private space - usually the toilet cubicle (sometimes this also includes any shower cubicles/shower space if provided - more common in public toilets close to the beach)
  • Semi-private space - usually the washing area. Where showers are provided, it may also include the shower space when that is a shared shower.
  • Semi-public spaces - these are most typically the areas inside and outside the entrance/exit of the public toilet and may include, for example, the hand drying area and place where people check their appearance before they leave. The semi-public space extends some way from the physical entrance/exit because this is a point where those using the public toilet have their behaviour being controlled by just having left (or just entering) a single point of access, and require some protection from this potential vulnerability.
  • Public space - this is the publicly shared space that is criminogenically outside the influence and effect of the public toilet.

Identify CPTED principles and criminological theories and evidence that apply to this situation

The above information on crime risks, crime factors and a different kinds of space provides the basis for identifying relevant CPTED principles and criminological theories on which to draw to create the CPTED design upon.

At this point it is possible to use all of the above to identify the specific CPTED features that will help minimise crime, anti-social behaviour and fear of crime in that public toilet.

Design Review and identification of potential Dark Side outcomes

Once a preliminary CPTED design has been established, it can be reviewed and criticized in terms of whether it would act as planned. Importantly, is to review the proposed design in terms of unexpected adverse or negative outcomes 0n users or other stakeholders or land uses.

This design review also provides a path to refine the design to improve its likelihood of producing better outcomes. This 'design review and redesign' process can be repeated until the gains are insufficient to warrant further effort.

Build and evaluate and refine if necessary)

When the CPTED design from the above steps is built, it is important to evaluate whether it works as planned in CPTED terms. After the public toilet has been use for some time , it is good to review the real criminological outcomes. In addition, such evaluations and any lessons learned can benefit future CPTED designs, partiicularly if reported in the environmental criminology literature.

CPTED for Public Toilets - Design Standards

In some jurisdictions (usually at local government level) standards have been developed for the design of public toilets.

These LGA or state design standards are aimed at providing good quality public toilets whose design addresses the most common and most obvious criteria for providing the neccessary services and reducing crime.

However, locations and crime contexts differ and fashions for public toilet designs change relatively frequently. For example, the widespread urban fashion for, and design standards of, underground public toilets have now almost completely disappeared.

The CPTED process described above offers a way of designing to reduce crime relatively independently of and in alignment with public toilet design standards in any jurisdiction.


Please note: This article is intended for educational purposes and is illustrative only. It is intended to provide the reader with the basis of a professional framework for addressing the CPTED design of public toilets. Every CPTED situation is different and this author and organisation accept no responsibility for your use (or not) and/ or its consequences, of the above.












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