Monday, June 11, 2012

The Importance of Personal Security

Image courtesy of clutch magazine

I write a lot on this blog about pedestrian safety, but usually my focus is on how road design, crossing treatments, sidewalks, and technology can make it safer for pedestrians to navigate public streets. But this recent Streetsblog Post about harassment in public spaces, along with stories like this one of a young man killed in random gang-related shooting, have reminded me of the other half of pedestrian safety: personal security.

We can build the most walkable streets in the country, but if people are worried about crime and harassment (unfortunately, those two words aren't always synonymous) no one is going to use them. In many ways, this is a harder problem to fix than the infrastructure one. Given enough money (and political will), building streets that are physically safe for pedestrians becomes a relatively simple exercise in engineering. When it comes to personal security, we're faced with complex social problems that don't have easy solutions.

That's doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

As pedestrian advocates, we need to recognize that part of our job--our first job, really--is to create spaces where people feel secure walking. Toward that end, we must partner with people who are working to address this issue (police departments, gang prevention advocates, women's groups and others who fight against street harassment). Otherwise we run the risk of designing beautifully walkable--but empty--streets.

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