Safety through beauty

UK group Women’s Design Service offers a critique of and alternative to technology- and enforcement-centered approaches to safety in public spaces: fewer barren plazas, more friendly uniformed … toilet attendants.

gendersite.org

The women took issue with mainstream UK initiatives to ‘design out crime’ in their dislike of the surveillance culture and technology promoted in the name of community safety.  This government-promoted approach includes felling trees to ensure clear sightlines for CCTV cameras,  erecting railings around steps and public monuments where people like to linger and chat, covering public spaces with ugly signage prohibiting everyday activities,  or installing “mosquitos” (high-pitched sounds) to deter young people from congregating in the street.

The very presence of CCTV made women feel that an area must be unsafe.  Although many wanted to see more uniformed people in public spaces, they preferred the sight of park wardens, bus conductors, and toilet attendants rather than police.  Fenced-off areas and barriers made them feel trapped. Security guards, overseeing privatized public spaces, were also seen as a problem – concerned primarily with the profitability of the enterprise, and not the well-being of the visitor.

The factor that contributed most highly to women’s sense of safety was ‘a variety of/ lots of other people about’; often they would add ‘smiling people’, ‘happy people’, ‘the sound of children laughing’. WDS therefore does not support the current mainstream approach to community safety. Designers and decision-makers need to think more about how to attract a wide range of different people to come and enjoy themselves in the public spaces of towns and cities.  One way of achieving this is simply through making such places beautiful – a concept rarely discussed in the context of safety. It is this quality above all which will draw people out of their homes and cars to occupy and enjoy a sense of well-being in public urban space.


Originally published at culture-making.com.

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