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A Blueprint for Safety : Design: A growing number of landscapers are creating plans that are pleasing to the eye, but also help prevent crimes and accidents.

September 05, 1993|DENISE HAMILTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

REGION — When Cy Carlberg looks at a dense, flowering bougainvillea, she sees more than shrubbery. The Caltech landscape designer envisions the mugger who could hide behind it, perfectly concealed from potential victims.

"Overgrown shrubs, no matter how nice they look, can pose a problem," Carlberg said grimly.

Carlberg likes to patrol her turf after dark with a flashlight to spot thick hedges where mashers can lurk, uneven sidewalks waiting to trip unwary passersby or dark alcoves that need better illumination.

That allows her to translate an architect or designer's renderings into real-life scenarios. She knows that what looks good on paper doesn't always comfort a lone pedestrian scurrying home late at night, alert for footfalls behind.

Carlberg is one of a growing cadre of designers who are putting an urban edge on landscape design--planning to prevent crime and accidents as well as to please the eye.

"You look at balance and harmony and texture and color and use and now there's one more piece of the equation: safety," she said. "Lots of work goes into making it look open and leafy and natural. When it looks effortless, that's when the most work occurs behind the scenes."

Joan Hirschman, an assistant professor at Cal Poly Pomona's department of landscape architecture, is another adherent of stronger safety measures, particularly for women.

"It's something that deserves a lot more attention and could become a consulting specialty from a women's safety perspective," Hirschman said. "Only recently are people starting to look at some of the tenets of landscape architecture and questioning the ideas that we've built good design on and what is good for women."

Carlberg, a certified arborist, has worked for the city of Fullerton and was the landscape designer at Scripps College--one of the prestigious Claremont Colleges--for four years.

On a recent day, Carlberg returned to Scripps to show a visitor her handiwork at the private liberal arts college for women built in 1926.

Strolling through the 30-acre campus, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Carlberg explained how the campus was designed in an era when security concerns were almost nonexistent.

Today, Scripps retains its stately, leafy feel but is beginning to feel the urban problems that plague most of Los Angeles County. Belying the pastoral atmosphere at Scripps are the occasional reports of crime--a total of 21 reported in 1992, the vast majority of them burglaries.

Carlberg says this rustic environment can lull students into a false sense of security. Outside a student dormitory, she points out how she trimmed back the Pyracantha--a shrub with orange, holly-like berries--to deter prowlers.

The luxurious Pyracantha grew 3 feet high and 5 feet across, obscuring part of the dormitory windows and providing ample cover for someone creeping up through the grounds to peer or crawl inside the windows, which young women often left open on hot summer nights.

"Boy, that was an accident waiting to happen," Carlberg said. Her shears got to the shrubs before any problems materialized.

The tour continues through a walkway that is now lined with lights encased in eight-paned clear glass lamps atop tall metal posts. Before Carlberg's arrival at Scripps in 1988, the area was poorly lit, with lights spaced far apart.

"When I moved in," recalled Nancy Bekavac, Scripps' president who lives on campus and enjoys nighttime strolls with her golden retriever, "one of the first things I did was fall into a trench."

Bekavac can now stride safely through the grounds.

"The comfort level has changed, and I think that's critical to women," Bekavac said. "It's very hard ever to explain to men the kind of burden that concern about personal safety puts on women."

In addition to the antique-looking lamps, whose design was found in the Scripps archives and replicated by a contemporary craftsman, there are wires that snake almost unseen up the trunks of olive trees, connecting to spotlights that cast strategic beams across wide swaths of the night-darkened campus.

In another courtyard, Carlberg planted prehistoric-looking Australian tree ferns under windows. They provide appealing lacy green foliage while allowing for "visual penetration," landscape lingo that means one can see through it, an important safety consideration.

Scripps is accessible to the street, which means anyone can stroll in. A four-foot stucco wall surrounded one dormitory, but Carlberg thought it could easily be scaled by a determined prowler, so she topped the stucco with iron grillwork to provide better security.

The grillwork blends in with the Mediterranean hacienda-style building to evoke a lazy, 19th-Century feel.

Carlberg has an eye for landscape features that look perfectly innocent to most people. For example, overgrown, luxurious foliage may look wonderful at high noon, but security guards making their rounds at night want to be able to see through them to make sure no one is hiding.

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