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Monday Nov 03, 2014

'Tear down your high walls for safety'

Durban needs more risk-takers willing to break down their high security walls and live in a safer city without walls.

Idealistic, perhaps, but criminologist Professor Monique Marks believes this will one day be possible. Her home has no walls - only a simple, low fence.

"I will not have a wall. I live by what I talk about. I am an inspired risk-taker."

Marks, from the Durban University of Technology’s Urban Futures Centre, presented her research at a public meeting at the university last week.

She partnered with former policeman Chris Overall, security companies ADT and Blue Security, and architects in the City Without Walls Campaign.

She said the ideal Durban home would have low, palisade fencing with no foliage obstructing the view of the property. Privacy would be sacrificed, but this loss would make your family safer.

In her research, titled "Beyond the Conceivable: Pondering a City Without Walls in South Africa", Marks says walls don’t serve the purpose they are built for, which is to keep people safe.

Her research looked at two suburbs - Umbilo and Westville - and how the high or low walls affected crime.

"Umbilo has residents who are either working class or lower class where high walls are not a characteristic feature. Many have low walls or simple fences.

"Westville, however, is a fairly high-walled suburb. The class difference between these suburbs is also important. We spoke to the two security companies operating in those areas, as well as the police."

She found that crime was lower in Umbilo compared with Westville, with the low walls being one of the contributing factors.

She said they discovered a home in Umbilo which, despite having no walls or fences surrounding the property, has had only a cellphone stolen in 30 years.

"The owner believes having no walls makes her home a safer space, as she can see what’s going on, and anyone can see she has nothing to hide. A senior police officer in Umbilo also took us to his home, where he had low walls. He believes in increased visibility," she said.

Overall, a former policeman working in the eThekwini Safer Cities unit, said officers responding to a scene couldn’t make an accurate operational assessment, including how many people and criminals were in the house, because of high walls.

"Officers who respond put themselves at high risk, as they don’t know what they are getting themselves into. You can have skills, but if your surveillance is compromised, that situation becomes a police officer’s worst nightmare. High walls don’t help police."

He said community policing is done by neighbours who look out for each other.

"You must be able to see each other to help."

His home also has a low fence.

Brian Jackson, operations manager for Blue Security, said that, while he agreed walls were the first line of defence, height was not necessary.

"A high wall won’t keep a criminal out. If they want to get over a wall, they will. High walls hinder armedresponse officers. Officers have to jump over these high walls and run the risk of breaking a leg or spraining an ankle. What help is he or she to you then?

"Time is of the essence. Split-second decisions that determine life and death are wasted as officers try to get over the wall. Keep your security simple so that you will still have your privacy."

East Coast managing director for ADT Martin Kriel said they got involved in the project because security was close to his heart.

He said criminals often don’t want to be seen, and once they were over the high wall, have free rein without anyone seeing them.

"No high gate or wall will stop a criminal from getting into your house. I don’t have high walls at my house - I believe visibility is critical."

Doung Janhangeer from Dala Architect also lives by what he preaches, saying his home has no walls or burglar guards.

"When I first came to South Africa, I was shocked to see the high walls and electric fences. For an island boy who never locked his doors, it was disturbing. Boundary walls have the potential to divide or unite. We need to start moving towards safety, as opposed to security."

A US exchange student commenting after the presentation said when she arrived in Durban she was shocked to see so much barbed wire.

"The last time I saw that much razor wire was when I was volunteering at a prison. While it may keep the bad guys out, it also makes people prisoners in their homes."

Umbilo Community Policing Forum chairman Ben Madokwe agreed that low walls create friendships between neighbours.

"Safety is a community thing, not an individual thing. If we allow ourselves to be prisoners in our homes, the criminals have won."

Sunday Tribune


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