Here Director of Practice, Helen Taylor, explores how the design of the built environment can help (or hinder) women’s safety.
Even before London went into official lockdown in March 2020, many people started staying home and businesses voluntarily closed. The streets were quiet and the usual passive surveillance, that much of the public relied on to make them feel safe in the urban environment, particularly outside daylight hours, was no longer there. In the last few years, a number of high profile murders of women using public space have raised the profile of women’s safety and prompted more conversations across the industry on how the design of the built environment might help or hinder safety, or even just the sense of safety, that might encourage women to use a space.
Obviously women and girls aren’t the only group considered vulnerable but, as roughly 50% of the world population, they are a very significant group. Designing for the needs of women should have positive impacts on a wide range of people.
"The built environment can be a strong catalyst for change."
Many of the industry initiatives have taken the opportunity to emphasise the importance of having a diverse design team or diverse stakeholder inputiv. This is absolutely important, and to be championed, however, there are specific design measures or principles that could be established, regardless of the make-up of the project team, that mitigate against the need to implement active surveillance or wait for behavioural transformation.
Additional CCTV and security patrols are more likely to communicate that a space is unsafe and will not necessarily encourage more use. And no amount of lighting will stop someone determined to cause harm.
Over and above basic physical accessibility standards, there are a few specific areas of design that positively contribute to safety.