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Walks of the Street- a framework of street design for women

Here Cara Thom shares her findings with us: Walks of the Street was a project exploring the difference between perceived and actual safety and the different reasons for fear in public spaces. After analysing the city of Glasgow, some key conclusions can be made about the city and its street design needs in relation to women’s safety.

Figure 1- Reclaim the night collage.

Throughout history, women have overcome many inequalities and boundaries to become equal members of society. However, there is more still work to be done. Gender-based violence is still an issue today and restricts many women's lives. After the murder of Sarah Everard in 2021 sparked a series of Reclaim the Night protests around the country, the question of street safety at night was quickly brought into the conversation, with women sharing their personal stories of fear at night and studies showing 97% of women have experienced a form of sexual harassment in their lifetime.

The analysis of streets' physical design suggests that there are more design similarities when looking at a street's typology instead of the street's wealth and status. A wealthy industrial street has more similarities in terms of design to a poor industrial street than a wealthy mixed-use street. This doesn’t mean that the streets have the same level of fear regardless of wealth but that the physical design of a street doesn’t directly influence fear. This study also shows that designing out crime does not guarantee designing out fear. Understanding the differences will be vital to finding a fear-free design principle.

The other conclusion can be derived from the fear hot spots mapping. By grouping the fear spots into categories, it became clear that people are more likely to be scared within the city because they don’t trust the strangers around them. On the other hand, the outer communities' fear spots were much more likely to be caused by signs of disorder or a lack of eyes on the street. This suggests that at least two different solutions are needed, one for improving trust and one more for improving eyes on the street.

Figure 2- Fear hot spots, no trust in strangers

Figure 3- Fear hot spots, lack of eyes on the street

Figure 4- Fear hot spots, signs of disorder

Figure 5- Fear hot spots, limited mobility

These conclusions helped form the brief for the design phase of the project, which involved working at the city, neighbourhood and street scale to create a new network of street design. The new designs will create new street typologies which improve the eyes on the street, or the trust in strangers, which should improve the perception of safety.

Figure 6- Design brief, City to neighbourhood to street

Designing a solution which fits this brief started with the street scale and took six key elements from the research into safety and developed them into different street types. These new streets are: Active, Vibrant, Green, Illuminated, Human and Sociable, and each of them are either trying to improve the trust in strangers by improving the emotions people experience or improve the eyes on the street by geting more people to stay in the public space for longer.

Figure 7- New Street Strategies

Active streets will be designed around urban play spaces for both children and adults. This would include climbing structures, outdoor gym equipment or even vertcal climbing walls. Other aspects of active streets could include active frontage and pop-up structures or markets.

Vibrant streets are focused on building pleasant spaces through the addition of colour. This can be achieved on various scales, from just painting small areas of the street or road markings to covering the pavement and buildings in different murals and paterns.

Green streets will aim to improve people’s emotions through nature. Achieving this must be done in ways that don’t restrict views, like low-level planters or low-density trees. Other strategies include planting along a building or green arches over the street.

Human streets will try to change the street's balance of car and pedestrian space. The strategies to achieve this will range from extended pavement space in certain areas to shared road space to reducing the footprint on the ground floor of buildings.

Illuminated streets need a severe improvement in lighting to affect the perception of safety. Whether this is done through lighting structures on the building walls, recessed pavement lighting or key routes to specific venues, all of these could help improve the perception of safety, especially at night.

Sociable streets will encourage people to stay in the street longer and converse with those around them. Through different methods of public seating design, from moveable tables and chairs to building structures, a street can be turned into a more sociable place. Also, developing bus stops, which already have people waiting, into a more pleasant sociable space will be another way to encourage social interaction within the public realm.

Moving up to the neighbourhood scale, the new framework divides a city into four neighbourhood types: residential, mixed-use, industrial and city centres. Each of these has different problems, which form reasons for fear, like lack of community spirit, trainset residents, car-dominated streets, or a high population of strangers. These can all be addressed using the new street typologies outlined above. This can turn traditional residential places into connected neighbourhoods, mixed-use areas into playful neighbourhoods, industry or car-dominated places

The different neighbourhoods can all be created using a different combination of new streets. A connected neighbourhood will be built using vibrant, sociable and illuminated streets, although other strategies might be used in certain places. These strategies will encourage people to socialise more with their neighbourhoods within public spaces.

Playful neighbourhoods will focus on active, green, human and sociable strategies to encourage urban play and help make stronger connections to public spaces when people move houses more frequently.

Visible neighbourhoods will have a longer-term development plan to change the balance between car and pedestrian space. The street typologies will mainly be active, vibrant and illuminated, aiming to make streets more pleasing to walk down and therefore get more people using those spaces without relying on the car.

Trusting neighbourhoods are the highest-density neighbourhoods in the city and therefore have the highest density of people who use the space regularly but are always just moving through the streets to get somewhere else instead of interacting with the other people around them. The streets in these neighbourhoods will be human, green, illuminated and vibrant in the hopes that these strategies will make people feel happier and more trusting of those around them.

Figure 8- Framework summary

This framework should be adaptable to any city so that all women can benefit from an improved perception of safety where they live and work. With various combinations of active, vibrant, green, human, illuminated and sociable streets, we can improve trust in strangers, improve eyes on the street and reduce fear for everyone in public spaces.

Thanks so much to Cara for her interesting research findings. Are you curious about submitting a guest blog to us? Drop us an email and lets have a conversation!

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