How to design safer cities for women
By Christine Ro, 11th April 2021
Thoughtful, inclusive urban design can make streets safer for women – something that has multiple benefits.
Alexandra Park, a green expanse in the English coastal town of Hastings, is sprawling and lovely. It has wooded areas and several ponds, as well as two long, wide paths which weave around gently sloping lawns, gardens, trees and even a miniature railway track.
It has just about anything a parkgoer could want – except lights, security cameras and other safety equipment. The park’s focus on urban wildlife means that the area is dark at night. But violent incidents can take place even during the day, as Kay Early knows all too well. In June 2020, she was walking her dog when a man started following her, then punched her repeatedly in the face. He didn’t take any of her possessions, as three passers-by managed to chase him off.
But the attack has had severe repercussions for Early, a 33-year-old support worker for people with autism, who has been living with PTSD ever since. It didn’t help that, nine months after the attack, police told Early that her case was being dropped due to a lack of evidence. It could have progressed if there had been surveillance video in the park, the investigator said.
This has led Early and her friend Claire Noble to petition for more safety measures in the park, including CCTV and lights. To minimise the disturbance to wildlife, and assuage privacy concerns, they’re advocating for a single, well-monitored path through the park.
“I want to give people back their park so they can feel safe and walk without fear,” says Early. Similar campaigns have been cropping up elsewhere in England, such as efforts by the Sheffield group Our Bodies Our Streets to improve lighting in the city’s parks.
Both the Sheffield and the Hastings campaigns predated the disappearance of Sarah Everard as she walked home in London. But Everard’s death, as well as those of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, killed in a north London park in June 2020, have given extra urgency to discussion of women’s safety in public space.
I want to give people back their park so they can feel safe and walk without fear – Kay Early
Rather than victim-blaming individual women and girls, many people are asking how to transform cities so that female residents don’t have to fear leaving the house. One element of that transformation is thoughtful, inclusive urban design. This involves relatively small changes – like more walkable streets, open gathering spaces and well-lit pathways – so that women feel visible and welcome in public spaces.
And while these changes would improve women’s security, they would also help improve cities’ accessibility and liveability for everyone. Shared streets and more visibility Of course, women experience public safety in varied ways. Almost universally, those with more wealth will have more options for navigating, or avoiding, insecure spaces. Queer and gender non-conforming people, ethnic and religious minorities, and people with disabilities may be especially targeted in public, for example....