VSL:SCIENCE // How feeling safer can make you feel safer

Women — who tend to worry more than men about their personal safety — are especially sensitive to the danger signs around them. Now a British group called the Women’s Design Service is using that sensitivity to design urban spaces that are both more secure and, counterintuitively, more inviting.

WDS began by cataloguing several features of parks in London, Bristol, and Manchester. Next, it surveyed local women about whether those features made them feel uneasy. The answers were surprising: Many of the standard approaches to increasing public safety in any given space — adding police patrols, installing security cameras — proved to be counterproductive in terms of women’s sense of safety. Removing plants to improve sight lines made public areas seem sterile and deserted. More cops, and more security cameras, implied that a place was that much more dangerous.

Instead, the study recommends cutting back on police officers and adding more unarmed personnel in uniform — park wardens and custodians — and removing railings or other obstacles that keep people from sitting on walls and fountains. Security comes not from keeping certain people out, it seems, but — as Jane Jacobs taught us about cities 40-odd years ago — from drawing a variety of people in. In greater beauty and more company, the study concludes, is safety.

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