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  • Tyler Mierzwa

The Mighty Mountain: Reduced Crime on Burnaby Mountain?

Simon Fraser University’s Burnaby campus stands out to both frequenters and visitors alike. Despite the suspended concrete slabs of the Academic Quadrangle or the bizarre avocado sculpture, the most notable feature of the Burnaby campus is the mountaintop destination. To criminology students, Burnaby Mountain may be perceived as a criminological outlier compared to other nearby campuses, begging the question: does SFU’s Burnaby campus experience lower crime rates in a comparative sense? Without the use of statistics nor crime rate data, the answer to this question will be inferred using solely theoretical assumptions.

Other SFU campuses, such as Surrey and Vancouver, are integrated into the environment around them - being inside of a shopping mall and bordering the downtown Vancouver metropolis. The SFU Burnaby campus, however, is encompassed in all directions by mountainous ridges and dense forests which act as edges. Edges, as described by Martin Andresen (2020), are physical structures that classify the change from one boundary to the next and can lead to subsequent effects on crime distribution. Meaning, SFU Burnaby’s elevational prominence and limited accessibility result in fewer convergences of offenders and targets, henceforth causing reduced opportunities for crime (Andresen, 2020). This is quite intuitive; why would a hypothetical Burnaby-based car thief travel up a mountain, which only has two vehicular accessible routes, to seek potential targets? Albeit, there are trails and footpaths, but unless this Burnaby car thief is looking to get some steps in while he’s at it, it’s unlikely he will consider the SFU Burnaby campus as a reasonable location for targets. Overall, the mountaintop essence of SFU Burnaby acts as an edge, dissuading and deterring potential offenders elsewhere to possibly more accessible campuses.

Driving up Gaglardi Way, visitors may also recognize a sudden demographic shift. Andresen (2020) posits that edges are not limited to physical structures, as they can also be social or intangible. Meaning, boundaries can take the form of perceptual characteristics such as the transition between affluent neighbourhoods and impoverished areas. Burnaby Mountain acts as a perceptual edge in addition to a physical edge, given the contrast between the family packed stores in Burquitlam from the student-ridden streets of Univercity. Furthermore, the collection of students atop Burnaby Mountain has created a social fabric, where students can feel safe, productive, and a part of a cohesive community. According to Oscar Newman’s crime prevention through urban design (CPTUD), this social cohesion develops a defensible space, where students can more easily surveil and recognize “outsiders” within their community (Andresen, 2020). This is ever-present on the Burnaby Campus, where if a student sees a suspicious character engaging in mischievous behaviour on campus, they are inclined to react quickly and meaningfully as a result of the pride and territoriality developed over their campus. The university contributes towards this sense of safety too, with the placement of blue emergency buttons throughout SFU Burnaby and campus security conducting rounds often. SFU Burnaby’s tightly knit community may act as a deterrent to motivated offenders, as they are aware of the young demographic and watchful eye of the students, as well as the presence of the patrolling security. In essence, the SFU Burnaby campus is unique in that the location may act as a social edge where outsiders can be easily recognized, surveilled, and dealt with.

Using attributes of the geometry of crime (edges) and Oscar Newman’s CPTUD, the geological whereabouts of SFU Burnaby can be inferred to be safer than other SFU campuses. This is not to say SFU Burnaby is crime-free. Certain crimes, such as assaults, may have increased rates on the mountain, given the concentration of young adult males and an on-campus bar. Nevertheless, the SFU Burnaby campus is the poster boy for how the physical environment may influence the spatiality of crime.


Andresen, M. A. (2020). Environmental criminology: evolution, theory, and practice. New York: Routledge.

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