We need to have concrete and clear methods of understanding the nature of safety in our cities in order to plan for safer and more inclusive spaces. One important tool to understand perceptions of safety is safety audits which measure how safe women feel when out in public spaces, based on certain parameters. Safetipin, a mobile app to conduct safety audits in public, has collected over 10,000 safety audits in the city, both through crowd sourcing and through trained auditors. The Safetipin audits measure nine parameters including lighting, the state of the walk path, as well as the presence of people, and specifically women, on the streets.
It is important to create the conditions by which women (and others) are able to move about safely and without fear of violence or assault. This would entail having streets that are well lit and well used, easily available and good public transport, and public spaces that promote usage.
Based on safety audits done using Safetipin, two sets of factors consistently presented themselves as central to creating safer and inclusive public spaces. They are linked to urban design and planning. One set of factors is the infrastructure, which includes lighting, the state of the pavements, how well trees are trimmed, whether there are dark corners, height of the walls, presence of setbacks, design of waiting spaces such as bus stops etc. Adequate lighting consistently emerges as an important factor in determining the safety of a space. Thus, parks that were well lit were used more by women. Similarly, lighting in residential areas ensured more safety for women.
The second set of factors is the presence of people, especially women, and usage of the space. The presence of diverse groups of people including women has come out as another major factor in creating a sense of safety in public. A bustling marketplace would tend to be seen as a safer space than a deserted area. Thus, public spaces that are vibrant and promote activity tend to be safer. On the contrary, segregated spaces, high walls and lack of visibility all lead to greater feelings of insecurity. The visibility of a place is highly linked to feeling safe. If a woman feels that she can be seen in a public place by people, such as residents, from their windows, shops etc., she tends to be more comfortable moving around.
Having public transport close by is another important factor for safety. The availability of good public transport helps women’s mobility. While planning cities, it is therefore imperative to pay attention to both these aspects of the infrastructure and the ways spaces are used. We need our cities to be planned in ways that promote safety, accessibility, mobility and inclusion.