Los Angeles is a city that was built for crime. According to architecture writer Geoff Manaugh’s new book, A Burglar’s Guide to the City, its urban form deserves at least part of the blame for the larceny inflicted upon us. In fact, the sprawl gave rise to what Manaugh calls an entirely different kind of policing: from helicopters. We talked to him about buildings, burglars, and bank robbers.
Certain parts of L.A. are more prone to burglary simply because of their architecture and design. Manaugh says cookie-cutter suburban development is a prime target.
“You are detached from your neighbors, you’ve got a backyard, you’ve got a little privacy fence, your house is similar not just to the houses around it, but there are going to be no architectural surprises for a burglar. They’re going to know where to go to find the bedroom, they’re going to know within the bedroom where to go to find the jewelry. There are just certain patterns people have.”
Freeways can be good for getaways. They helped fuel Southern California’s rash of bank robberies in the 1990s.
“The construction of all these freeways across the entire Southland inadvertently catalyzed a new genre of bank crime. Banks and credit unions that were located at the bottom of an off-ramp and at the bottom of an on-ramp became especially susceptible to robberies. If you were a criminal, you would literally pull off the freeway, rob the bank, get back on the freeway, and the next thing you know, you’re in Burbank. The design of the city actually allowed the crime wave to occur. As Los Angeles radically rethinks its transportation infrastructure, it makes you wonder how decisions today could be having really strange and unanticipated criminal effects in the next 30 to 40 years.”
Less uniform areas—like the “fractal geometry of the Hollywood Hills,” in Manaugh’s words—can create the illusion of being immune to crime.
“On paper, one of the reasons why you would be safest up there is you’re on these narrow roads; burglars don’t necessarily know exactly how to get away. At the same time, that weird world of dead ends and culs-de-sac is also exactly one of the reasons why it’s difficult to police. Those kinds of neighborhoods are quite interesting because they present challenges to both sides of the law.”