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Helen Clark Foundation And WSP In New Zealand Call For National Forum On Designing For Safety In Towns And Cities

The Helen Clark Foundation and WSP in New Zealand are recommending that a national forum be convened on how urban design can contribute to creating safer urban areas.

While a review of crime data paints a complex picture, there are challenges to respond to with rising concern about public safety in our cities. Coordinated urban design interventions can help make us feel safer. These will become critically important as our cities become denser and there is more demand for public space, says Acting WSP Fellow at the Helen Clark Foundation, Anne Cunningham.

Anne is the author of a new discussion paper on Safer Cities Through Design, which recommends bringing together diverse perspectives and expertise in establishing safe urban places. The paper also calls for urban public places to be designed in a way that restores mana and mauri Māori.

The paper finds that fears about potential crime can affect where people choose to live, and whether and how they use public places. Anne says some groups, especially women, trans and nonbinary people, children, and older people, suffer disproportionately and will often modify and limit their use of urban streets, squares, parks, playgrounds, and public buildings because of safety concerns.

“Areas that are perceived as unsafe are often negatively portrayed and labelled in the public discourse. That can result in people limiting their use of those public spaces and make them more likely to use cars – setting back efforts to decarbonise the transport system and reduce existing transport inequities. Fewer people around in turn makes an area more unsafe.”

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WSP director of property and buildings Neil Barr says more than one million extra people are projected to live in Aotearoa’s cities by 2050. Urbanisation on this scale underscores the necessity of building safe public spaces that cater to people from all walks of life, enhance social cohesion and boost individual wellbeing.

“Urban design has a vital role to play in creating safe, vibrant, well-functioning cities – especially when broader social issues around safe, affordable precincts, early mental health intervention and a reduction in recidivist behaviour are brought into the mix. We know that Crime Prevention through Environmental Design principles lead to greater social contact and more 'eyes on the street' - a major factor in increasing people's feelings of being safe.

“It's more important than ever that all groups of people feel safe and secure when out and about. This discussion paper is a valuable input into how the community and policymakers can, and must, work together to make that happen.”

Key recommendations include:

  • Convene a national forum for dialogue on safety in Aotearoa New Zealand’s urban public spaces – involving central and local government, and community stakeholders.
  • Update national and local authority Crime Prevention through Environmental Design guidance to reflect contemporary understanding of safer city design and Aotearoa New Zealand’s unique cultural context better.
  • Develop guidance that better supports local authorities to integrate their urban design and social wellbeing functions.
  • Develop a learning pathway for the spatial design profession in relation to safer city design.

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