I was invited to contribute something on safety and public space for a series of articles in The Conversation called Cities for Everyone. Figured I should post it here too!
The central role of public spaces in the social, cultural, political and economic life of cities makes it crucial that they're accessible to everyone. One of the most important qualities of accessible public spaces is safety. If people do not feel safe in a public space, they are less likely to use it, let alone linger in it.
Perceptions of safety are socially produced and socially variable. It is not simply the presence of crime - or "threatening environments" - that contributes to lack of safety or fear.
All sorts of measures are put in place to make public spaces safer, from design to policing. But when we consider the effectiveness of these measures, we always have to ask: whose safety is being prioritised?
Women and members of ethnic and sexual minorities are among those who experience particular kinds of threats, abuse and violence in public spaces.
If we don't account for the social dimensions of safety, there's a risk that measures designed to enhance safety will have the opposite effect for some urban inhabitants.
Follow this link for the rest of it, with links to further research etc.