How landscape architects fight the last war while designing against mass shootings

Landscape architects are increasingly in the business of designing spaces that are resistant to mass shootings, terrorists driving their cars into crowds and other forms of murderous, technology-assisted rampages.

The newly rebuilt Sandy Hook Elementary sports an observation area (a "rain garden") that visitors pass through on their way to the "hardened" doors; auto-deadbolting classroom doors; hardened door-glass that takes 10-15 minutes of sledgehammer work to clear, even after it's been shot; and so on.

It's part of a decade-plus professional effort to "design for security and civic values," a practice that includes "hardening historic walls without sacrificing original materials" and making unobtrusive anti-car-rampage bollards out of ornamental trees.

But as Kelsey Atherton writes in the Verge, all of this is fighting the last war, creating defenses against tactics that have already been invented — even though there are easy-to-imagine variations on these tactics that negate the defenses (think of blowing up an airport checkpoint where hundreds of people are clustered together waiting to pass through scanners that prevent you from blowing up the plane).

"Whatever risks we evaluate, people get crazier and crazier, or cleverer and cleverer," says Jay Brotman, a partner at Svigals + Partners. "Vegas is a good example. They probably had all these layers of barriers, people watching everything else, but somebody did something totally different that took them all totally out of play."

To try to help people face down shooters, the Crime Prevention through Environmental Design makes interior spaces to protect those threatened inside until they can escape. For outdoor spaces, there are some tools, like low hedges to make it easier to stop approaching people, or one-way gates that unlock from the inside but require an electronic sign-in to open from the outside. With big, temporary outdoor installations, there are fewer tools available.

The main thing to take into account for these designers is how people move — or perhaps, more accurately, stampede — in response to threats. Researchers draw from studies of how people move, observations of real-life tragedies, and computer modeling in order to determine how people behave in crowds: how they get stuck, trampled, or endanger others in their attempts to escape.

Landscape architects now design for mass shootings
[Kelsey Atherton/The Verge]

(via Naked Capitalism)

(Image: The new Sandy Hook Elementary School, Robert Benson Photography/Svigals + Partners)