Reclaiming More Than the Night

Of all the blogs, articles, memes, FB pages, Twitter accounts, Pinterest boards and YouTube vids (you get the picture), there is an almost embarrassing quantity of info to wade through regarding biking, design and urban planning (which, believe it or not, is kind of the focus of this blog). A recent article on gender and safety in public spaces appeared on the not unpopular website, Landscape Architects Network, and some of the findings are disturbing to say the least –

“According to the Guardian, four out of 10 women had reported being sexually harassed in London during the past year; research done in Canada shows that more than 80 percent of women had experienced male harassment in public spaces.”

– Reclaiming Our Cities: Gender, Justice and Safety Design, D. Zein (the whole article can be read here)

There’s a problem here, clearly. And sadly, it isn’t uncommon.

I think about the way that I move in my city, or in my neighbourhood. The lanes I avoid, the paths I know that are well lit and the roads that I know will have passing traffic on. I don’t feel that I am able to tread as swiftly as others, due to my gender. I know that others face challenges and safety may be a similar challenge for them. This may be due to age, physical ability for example, and I don’t discount the significance of this. But what it comes back to time, and time again is how many people are around and do those people allow me a sense of safety?

A bunch of blokes smoking outside of a pub, drunk and loud under harsh, fluro lighting are probably not going to help me feel safe. Groups in twos or threes sitting outside a cafe, eating chatting under more subtle lighting however? That would make me feel safe. This is an incredibly simplistic argument and I know that, but sometimes its these very basic points that seem lost on planners and designers.

There is a public toilet that was installed on Glenferrie Road about a year ago. I understand, given its close proximity to nightclubs and pubs in the area, that it would have been put there in an effort to curb people urinating in public. Great, fantastic. However…

There is no way in a hundred, billion years that I would use that facility if I needed to pee. It is literally an automated nightmare of a box that is all a bit, well, just weird. The fact that I don’t even understand what it is that makes me uncomfortable is interesting. But I do know that it is something about safety. Something about vulnerability and that vulnerability (well, my nakedness in this case) being an automated door away from the public. Does that make me feel safe? No.

Sadly, on the same website, there is an article on the benefits of cycling and how planning for proper cycling infrastructure is essential to get people on bikes. Written by a woman, it is an article that is a true inspiration in how things can be different and transport can be changed. The picture that accompanied the article is a large group of naked women, sitting on their bikes at what one assumes is a start line (view it here, if you must). What on earth does this image have to do with the article? Nothing. Does it reinforce notions of women being there to be ‘viewed’ in public space? Yes. Is it hypocritical of┬áLandscape Architects Network to have an image like this along with articles on women’s safety in public spaces? You better believe it.

We own these streets too.