Using its role as a civic voice, the Civic Trust facilitated a series of events under its umbrella project ‘Safer Places By Design’ as part of York Design Week in 2021. It brought an open, public discussion between York Citizens and interest and professional groups.
Recent tragedies in the UK remind us that the issue of our safety from harm in our towns and cities is continuing; sadly, York is not exempt. Despite modernity’s assurance that ‘these types of incidents are very rare’, this can feel hollow based on our lived experiences.
[Download the Heat Map as a pdf using this link.]
Do we take different routes around York informed by our perception of risk to safety, and influenced because of our gender or age or another factor? If some of us must take longer routes to access areas, is this fair? What spaces do we avoid and why? What role does surveillance play – does the unseen panoptic eye, often presented as a cheap cure-all for societal control in urban spaces, really offer any tangible benefit or reassurance?’
The issue of risk of harm occurring in public places in UK towns and cities is often only mentioned in the media in response to tragic events. And yet, our safety can also be improved through proactive, good urban design and planning. If we engage more with the latter, can we prevent more tragic events occurring? Can we all feel safer in York?
York Civic Trust has an established reputation for fighting to better protect the city’s historic buildings and special spaces, including narrow lanes and the ‘snickelways’. But the protection of our city’s historic environment should not come at the cost to citizens feeling less protected from harm.
Modern anxieties around how, and even should, we navigate the network of streets, alleyways, ‘snickets’ and underpasses, in our urban environment should be etched into the stories of our built environments, yet they are rarely documented or even considered. Indeed, the question of how safe we are or feel on the streets of our cities has been ever present, suggesting that it should be amongst the leading guidance in how we design and manage our urban spaces. The reality is other impulses drive urban design or prevent urban reform, such as concerns of cost, traffic flow, accessibility, signage, drainage, even the preservation of heritage. Despite perceived or real danger on our streets, the issue of safety rarely gets asked by our politicians or in the media.
The week of events, which included a workshop, safety-awareness masterclass walk, and installation in one of the identified unsafe ‘hotspot’ – Black Horse Passage – encouraged a rethinking on less-safe spaces in York. Can we make them safer and celebrate this and these spaces? Can we cast some light on them through public discussion and seeking out solutions?
These conversations are ongoing as public safety in York remain an issue.