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.

York ‘Heat Map’ showing perceptions of dangerous and safer areas in York’s city centre. (Large stars indicate multiple votes)

[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.

Installing the ‘happening’ event along Black Horse Passage: bunting showcasing public responses to York’s danger ‘hotspots’ and proposed ways to help and glowsticks. That the installation was vandalised within two hours of being launched evidenced the pressing problem and need for further work!
Members of the public engaging with the Civic Trust’s safety awareness workshop.
The Civic Trust’s safety awareness workshop on Stonebow in October 2021.

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.

7 thoughts on “Safer Places by Design

  1. Can the space by Black Horse Pasage be opened out and transformed into a welcoming space? It has vast unused potential.

  2. I live in South Bank and I really don’t like walking back from town on my own. I tend to stick to big main roads like The Mount/Bishopthorpe Road which are well lit and busier – I don’t take shortcuts late at night (like the cut through to Scarcroft School from Nunnery Lane) and I wouldn’t walk down the river or by Millennium Bridge. There are areas like Scarcroft park which are quiet and dark and I don’t feel safe. It’s not that anything has happened to me but at the top of Albemarle Road – it’s hard to see who is around. Further down, there are bushes down the side of the road and allotments, plus Little Knavesmire which are all very dark and quiet spaces – I don’t like walking there alone at night. I just don’t feel safe. In the city centre I feel ok usually because there are people around but it’s intimidating when there are large groups of drunk people around and you’re on your own.

  3. Cinder Lane and railway bridge (behind the station) – the top of the bridge has got a light out! It’s very dark walking over the bridge at night after I finish work at 22.30.

  4. I was mugged on the cycle track Between Arran place and layerthorpe over 20 years ago during the day. In all this time the cycle track does not feel my safer. It’s poorly lit in places once it goes dark and unless I’m on my bike or out running I try to avoid this. When they built derwenthorpe I thought efforts would be made to improve the whole track not just the end near derwenthorpe as it’s encouraged as a safe route to get to the city instead of the road. this doesn’t appear to be the case. As for Clarence Street with drinking banned in the parks, city centre streets and most other public areas it means street drinkers will gather near to hostel accommodation which includes Clarence st and bootham grounds another no go area after dark and even during the day.

  5. I never use to walk/run along the Foss alone now the Fairy Trail has transformed it into a safer, busier, happier place. No one wants to hang out there and get up to no good now it’s busy!
    Clarence Street for me was an eye opener the other day when I drove by early evening due to Gillygate closure and there were bodies just slumped everywhere drinking – not a great site.
    I often go along the river but not alone after dark but that’s not a new thing I always try and remove myself from what could be a dangerous situation. The lighting is poor along that section of the river.

  6. As a resident in the Blue Bridge Lane area, while I am uncertain as to the dangers, the drunken pedestrian, alleged drug dealing and use of the Blue Bridge, New Walk and Blue Bridge Lane as a thoroughfare to and from the city centre and the trace course, make it at best a rowdy area.
    I fear that the only real solution is a high visibility, and permanent police presence, especially at night when the blue line is conspicuously absent unless they respond to a incident. By then it’s too late!

  7. I feel why the Black Horse passage is bad is the Graffiti and the general mess of the place. Maybe the lighting. It is whether you want Victorian feel or a modern set of Lighting.

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