Team reading planning proofs

It should be a given that we all feel safe in our built environment and can move freely, even after dark – the recent headlines and statistics regarding lone women make for uncomfortable reading. As designers, these statistics should motivate us to think more creatively about safety and inclusivity for all when curating public spaces.

While the introduction of Approved Document Q in 2015 by Secured by Design (SBD) – the official police security initiative that works to improve the security of buildings – was positive, the regulations are fairly rigid.

I believe that public art, lighting, greening, wayfinding devices, active frontages and the use of residential self-surveillance through the orientation of homes to overlook primary routes are all key to the creation of safe spaces.

Early in the design process, we can mitigate future risk by reducing the number of dead ends and the need to take long, isolated walks to reach common destinations.

In addition to lighting, I have found that public art at the end of passageways softens the urban landscape, as does greening, which is accessible to all, makes for a more social environment and encourages footfall.

The recent lockdowns have had a profound impact on our urban landscapes and once active streets and shopfronts. Here, just as in an empty car park, lighting, signage and wayfinding are critical in maintaining a sense of safety.

Clear lines of sight are paramount, as are spaces designed for passive surveillance. These essential factors should be considered from the outset.

The recent pedestrianisation we have witnessed post pandemic and the advent of al fresco dining are also having positive effects on the safety of our cities. Encouraging night-time footfall, these mechanisms have reactivated public spaces and brought with them new energy.

The events of the past year have provided a catalyst for the reinvention of our civic centres and our public realm. With a new appreciation for the wellbeing of our communities, we can now make the necessary interventions for safer, more inclusive spaces.

Public seating, level access, shared surfaces, lowered balustrading, windows for wheelchair users, Braille signage and tactile surfaces are just the start. Complemented by green and blue spaces that connect our natural and urban environments, we can design human-centric cities.

Lydia Firminger, associate principal, CallisonRTKL