Opinion: The idea of a safe city for women - reality or fictitious?

Written By: Minakshi Das
New Delhi, Delhi, India Published: Mar 27, 2018, 06:33 PM(IST)

Representative photo. Photograph:( Others )

Urban mobility, smart city, city branding - the latest buzz words in urban planning. We often fail to include the role of crime prevention, urban safety, and ample public spaces through environmental design. To address the same The Global Grid, organized a twitter event (#TheGlobalGrid) to discuss “Safety through Environmental Design” to ideate and develop suitable solutions to design public spaces for women and from the perspective of women.

My personal take on some of the pertinent questions on a safe city- “it’s indicators, design measures for a safe city, formulation of a cohesive community, gender approach in planning process and  elements that threaten the existence of a safe city” are provided herein below:

A safe city and its indicators:

The idea of a “Safe City” should not be limited to modern infrastructural development rather align with sustainable goals too. Along with safety measures namely: “CCTV Installation, street lights, employing women in police force and police stations, deploying emergency response team, prevention of cyber-crime, identifying hotspots, awareness campaigns via social media, live and women safety apps”, other indicators namely: “clean air, free from toxic agents, clean water, basic health requirement” should be part of “safe city” program.

Understanding a city’s structure, history, and design- its strength and weaknesses, without harming its ecology and unique features should be considered to build a safe city. Safe City’s agenda must include: health security, personal security and infrastructure, digital and cybersecurity, better family planning initiative and sensitizing public, promote wealth and economic development, better roads, equal focus on roads for car as well as pedestrians, intelligent lighting, sufficient energy supplies, well-lit streets, better transport system and disabled friendly city, public toilets.

In toto, appropriate measures to be taken in the field of “health, digital, infrastructure, and personal” safety.

Design measures required for a safe city:

Design measures to fulfill the urgent requirement to build a safe city. A city has to function smart for its citizens. A  safe city should be compact and well connected- better traffic flow, spaces for pedestrians, adoption of measures to launch better quality public transport, disabled friendly, designated waiting areas, study data to protect and detect problem areas (identify hotspots). Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) has proven to be a cost-effective measure to ensure safety.

To ensure optimal results, citizens with right assistance can participate and volunteer in urban planning and transform existing neighborhood. Create ample space for pedestrians, reduce the need for vehicles and public facilities with better urban design, maximize safety in health and personal security, engage stakeholders/civil societies, launch neighborhood watch program, understand the current demand of community- needs and requirements. Projects adopted should be feasible, cost-effective and avoid wasting money. Understanding our space and services needed for the community i.e, car parking, bike parking. The idea of “Urbanism” is not to destroy green spaces. Developers and planners should include green spaces and design friendly neighborhood for commercial as well as private property. 

Vienna in Austria (1999), conducted a study on the usage of public transport for men and women. The report suggested men completed the feedback form in no time. Whereas, women addressed a lot more practical issues.  Men use public transport only for official purposes (from office to home and vice versa). Women had broader demands, namely, “sidewalks, bus routes,  subway lines” to name a few. Women do not restrict their movement from home to office only. We are not a homogenous entity. The idea was to include men and women- “gender mainstreaming” to reshape the city. Design ensure safety measures and an optimal desired result can be achieved by including both the sexes for a metropolis to succeed.

In South Asia there are rampant instances of acid attack, chain snatching, knife attack/stabbing, women basically are encouraged to stay indoors at night. If cities are planned and well equipped with technology and environmental design, such risk can be significantly reduced. 

Ascertaining safe environment for a cohesive community:

We need to look beyond conventional measures to build safe cities. Mental, physical and social well-being can be assured in a healthy environment. A safe city is essential for the wellbeing of citizens. Community building exercises do help in the creation of a trusting network of relationships in the neighborhood. Often strong communities are well reciprocated, if these measures are encouraged- proactive participation, solutions to address local issues, harm minimisation strategy with the help of law enforcement, adopt preventive measures to handle risk factors like violence, injury, crime, early intervention and help risk-based groups, gender equity, recognising diversity and understanding of safety needs of men and women, proper design help reduce fear and crime. If these elements are inculcated, communities may develop strong ties and accountable.

A safe environment is definitely a good measure of community cohesion. Safe environment reduces fear and incidence of crime and improves the quality of life. For example, Melbourne, New York, and Tokyo are 24hours city, this has helped women participate in business and domestic affairs efficiently.

 Practical Approaches: 

Theoretically, all the above-mentioned measures are good. However, for a pragmatic approach, the requirement of developing countries and developed countries has to be understood. In India, basic issues such as slum dwellers issues, street vendors, public toilets and sanitation issues, poverty, a risk of eviction should be resolved. The idea of cohesive community will fail to exist if grass root issues are not addressed. The big divide between rich and poor will not ensure “safe city”. Most of the time victims of rape, abuse, torture, and migrants often face hardship looking for a suitable house or neighborhood. The house owners do not wish to be associated with risk and taboo involved in any victim related case. Thus, to build a cohesive community, such issues should be addressed.

Engaging women and residents, collect relevant data (R&D) for town planning, mixed-used neighborhood to cut down crime,  homelessness- the idea is to make cities liveable, involve women, community leaders in city planning. Women, children, and senior citizens are at risk often vulnerable, if these risks are analyzed and basic security through environmental design, technology, and zoning laws are set in place, lot more can be achieved.

Dark alley, the absence of street lights, functional CCTV, better pathways for pedestrians,  public transport, the absence of a functional 24-hour city- these features posing as a threat to our movement should be curbed immediately.

Will gender approach to safe city planning help reduce crime?

Gender equity is urgently needed to achieve social justice goal. The idea is to be fair to both the sexes. It helps understand the strategy required to identify the needs and requirement of both the sexes. 

We women do not enjoy much of public spaces (depends from country to country). To ascertain our territory/space -private and public, gender-based approach must be encouraged. We should be able to move around freely at any time- perform our regular chores, go to work, live life fully and why not, it’s 2018?

Gender approach is a systematic way to safe city planning, as it is more inclusive and do not represent women as “second-class citizen”. Women can equally participate in sectors like business, finance, politics, private/public sector jobs. The inclusion of women is fundamental to a holistic city-wide urban safety and public spaces. 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the authors and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)


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