Our Senior Account Manager Laura Cunliffe-Hall explores why women’s safety must be placed at the heart of venues and public spaces through improved placemaking.

This International Women’s Day, it’s imperative to reflect not only on progress made regarding women’s rights, but on how we can continue to improve women’s experiences of public spaces.

Initiatives across the UK are seeking to take positive steps to respond to urgent concerns surrounding women’s safety. In Leeds, Women’s Night Safe Space pilot, a joint safety bus initiative between Women’s Lives Leeds and Safer Leeds, will be piloted in Dortmund Square over the next three weekends and will be a  space where women can come if they feel concerned, unsafe, unwell or vulnerable. The initiative responded to a survey by Leeds Women’s Safety in May 2021, which identified that 50% of women of all ages, from all parts of the city, often or always felt unsafe in the city centre at night.

This bus pilot initiative follows the recent launch of the Home Office Enough campaign, designed to challenge perpetrators of street harassment, unwanted touching and coercive control. In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan has also announced additional funding, on top of a £60m investment in tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG), to help make venues and public spaces in the capital safer for women at night. Lighting and public realm improvement are also essential to improving how women can fully participate safely in public spaces.

A #LighttheWay campaign in Clyde is calling on Glasgow City Council to reverse its position on park lighting and light the main routes in Glasgow city centre parks to keep people safe at night. One of the key motivations behind this campaign is to enable women’s full participation within public spaces. Placemaking is the key to unlocking this.

Better placemaking can help us #BreaktheBias and ensure that women’s safety is protected across public life. Safety must be given prime consideration while shaping our cities and towns from the outset.

Steps we can take to make our spaces more inclusive and safer for women:

  • Any planning or placemaking process must include and amplify women’s voices – giving women and girls a seat at the table makes it easier to understand the challenges we face in public spaces and shows a genuine commitment to a dialogue of improvement.
  • Safety audits – providing a detailed analysis of potential risks within developments and planning applications that could have an impact on people’s safety. Dr Ellie Cosgrave, a lecturer in urban innovation and policy at University College London, has identified the need to understand the “social dynamics” of an area by conducting surveys, speaking to people, and implementing changes – a detailed safety audit could encompass these factors.
  • Better lighting – Arup have published reports and research on topics entitled ‘Cities Alive: Rethinking the Shades of Night’ and ‘Making Cities Safer for Women and Girls’ focusing on how the way light bounces off different road colours, surface finishes or the brightness of the area outside of the concentrated beam of light can affect our perceptions of brightness and safety in a space. Better lighting of spaces to reflect women’s lived experiences will positively improve how we are able to participate in public spaces.
  • Improving landscaping and external visibility – natural surveillance and landscaping spaces strategically not only improves access to nature, which is important for both physical and mental wellbeing, but provides improved visibility that makes outside spaces safer.
  • Regular maintenance of shared spaces– Funding to maintain and also upgrade shared spaces, across both developments and the wider public realm, projects an image of community and collective civic pride, as opposed to neglect, making spaces more egalitarian and removing the possibility of being isolated or ‘cut off’ that can create situations of vulnerability.

Further investment is required to generate tangible long-term change to make women safer.

By working collaboratively to address these genuine concerns relating to women’s safety, developers, planners and policymakers can look to future proof our communities.

It is essential that all of us in the infrastructure and development sectors work together to ensure that women’s, and all of our safety, is put at the heart of the placemaking process.

This #IWD2022, we must recognise the need to facilitate placemaking and safe space initiatives that enable and improve women’s participation across our public spaces.

To find out more about collaborative placemaking and improving safety, please contact Laura Cunliffe-Hall, Senior Account Manager within Copper’s Economic Development practice at Laura.Cunliffe-Hall@copperconsultancy.com