Vibrant public spaces enhance urban safety

A city with isolated, dark public spaces raises concerns of safety. Urban public spaces become appealing or uninviting depending on how safe they are. Many fine-looking public spaces in our cities remain unused after dusk or in early wee hours and a few of them even at peak hours because people do not feel safe there. City governments need to integrate safety with inclusivity and accessibility

Public spaces add colour to life of any city yet they have not received enough attention in global policy framework and discussions. Security and safety related issues have remained key issue of discussionand hog the space at national and international discourse for several reasons. It involves terrorism threats, disaster risks and negative impacts of climate change on a city. Physical design aspect of urban public spaces is often missing in such discourses. If people do not feel safe in a particular public space, they will abandon it. All of us have seen such places in our cities where people do not prefer to go, no matter how beautifully they are designed. There can be many factors involved in making a space popular among masses but the sense of safety is among the top factors. Mumbai High Court has intervened when the government floated the idea of making Mumbai 24×7 by allowing restaurants and shops to remain open 24 hours. The High Court asked the government to ensure safety of citizens first before taking such an initiative.

Safety and public spaces

The question is how to make people feel safe in urban public spaces and how to transform them into welcoming spaces. The methods to counter them do not necessarily have to result in sterile, alienating places as this trend is picking up fast in many Indian and global cities as many localities, especially high-income areas, are coming up with gated colonies and exclusive spaces. It is not rocket science to make a place safer through including components of physical design elements. Adequate lighting, well-kept paths for smoother movement inside the public space and easy-to-read signs to help users find their way are some simple steps. There are many urban parks in a city like Delhi that are used by many users during the day-time but no one uses them after the dusk. One such example is Deer Park that is located in upscale Green Park area of South Delhi. It has dense forest. Paths are not well-lit and clear. It is quite popular during daytime but even locals do not prefer to wander in there after dark because of safety concerns. It is to be noted that it is very close to most popular hangout zones for youngsters Hauz Khas Village where youngsters not only from Delhi but nearby cities throng for partying.

The introduction of adequate lighting and mixed usage is likely to bring more usage and social interactions amongst residents with positive impacts on the sense of safety. When municipal corporations or any development agency is planning any public space then it becomes imperative for stakeholders to consider who is using the public space, when and how. Another effective decision could be engagement of various users in planning and redesigning of these spaces. Engaging women, children, elderly people and frequent users while designing public spaces will be helpful in addressing the features that may cause feeling of insecurity among citizens. Most of the streets in India are good examples of multiple usages of public spaces. During early morning hours, newspaper hawkers use the space for sorting and bundling newspapers. In the morning, these become places people use for morning walks, in absence of parks and gardens in any given locality. During the day time, people use it for commuting. And, late in the evening, these become places where youngsters hangout. Such streets or say ‘unplanned yet vibrant public spaces’ are a feature of most of our cities. These places may have informal set-up but such places have increased social interaction considerably among denizens. Cities need to look inwards for solving the issue of safety and belonging.

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