Only better urban planning will ultimately help to build a safe city. With figures indicating that reported crimes against women are at an all time high, there is also an urgent need to evaluate and understand how we may restructure a city to benefit women. Minakshi Das explores some potential solutions for urban planning.
Women and urban design
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) plans to design a comprehensive “safe city plan” in eight metropolitan cities namely Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Ahmedabad. The idea is to create a concrete framework and accommodate necessary recommendations. The MHA concluded the framework shall include, “33 percent reservation of women in police force, CCTV installation, employ women in police stations, create emergency response team, prevention of cyber crime, identify hotspots, launch awareness campaigns via social media, live mobile counselling and track women safety apps developed by police authorities across cities”.
This ambitious plan and its recommendations ought to be applauded considering the incessant reporting on violence against women in India. However, before adopting short sighted goals it is crucial to identify how long-term goals can achieve greater good. Often plans are made and fail to achieve significant outcome. In most of the cases, such announcements are mere press releases – without any action driven end result. Only better urban planning will ultimately help us build a safe city. There is an urgent need to evaluate and understand how we may restructure a city to benefit women.
Women may be in paid employment or homemakers, but their movement does not restrict them to one mode of transportation or one specific route in daily life. Therefore, safer bus routes, subway lines, well-lit streets, installation of functional CCTV, better public transport, disabled access friendly for the city are essential component of the planning process. Safety and security can be ensured only with well-equipped environmental plan and smart designing of urban spaces.
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)
One practice to consider that has been taken up across the globe is Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) or ‘Designing Out Crime’, described as ‘a set of design principles used to discourage crime’ and reduce opportunities for crime. The four principles of CPTED are “natural surveillance, natural access control, territorial reinforcement and maintenance”:
- The concept of “Natural Surveillance”, is to “see and be seen”. If a person feels he/she will be seen committing a crime, there is less likelihood to commit the crime (sufficient street lights and landscape). The
- The purpose of “natural access control” is to reduce the opportunity to commit a crime- deny offenders access to targets by reducing escape opportunity.
- “Territorial reinforcement” is to maintain a clear distinction between private and public area. Well-lit property with fences, CCTV and signs instil fear and prevent criminal activity.
- “Maintenance” can be ensured by keeping the property clean and make necessary repair whenever required. Simple practices like landscape maintenance, fixing worn out building and painting the property create a sense of ownership to deter criminals. A well-maintained property is often perceived as a responsible owner residing in the neighbourhood. Neglected, dilapidated and ill maintained buildings are breeding grounds for criminal activity. For this reason, to make our community safe, preserving our property is essential. This model is cost effective and is one way of ensuring a safe city.
A sign indicating the waiting area for the women only carriages in the Delhi metro. Image credit: Chris Brown, Flickr.
To make a difference in our communities, people need to commit to longer term solutions and address environments that are suspected to be problematic. This will reduce crime hotspots and create a sense of guardianship to help deter crime. Along with sophisticated technology, environmental design can also provide cost effective assistance. Blending technology, environmental design and planned policing in urban spaces will definitely develop safe public spaces for women.
Politicians often promise and promote creation of a “smart and safe city” before every election. Such empty promises go unreported. Neither is this an issue limited to India – across the world many cities have failed to incorporate women in town planning process.
Feedback from women and detecting the flaws in the infrastructure and planning would yield constructive outcome. Studies should be conducted by planning officers to understand the needs of a woman and henceforth look for solutions to resolve them. Women are reported to often avoid walking at night alone or felt worried to commute freely at night due to constant fear of being attacked. Bangalore “Mass Molestation” on the New Year’s Eve, is still etched in women’s memories.
Only time will tell if the safe city plan proposed by the MHA will succeed. Although measures are taken to adopt technology to curb crime. Sustainable measures cannot be ignored. To conclude: better footpaths; installing public toilets for women and sufficient street lighting; involving women in safe city policy plans; environmental design through better landscaping; operative CCTV; enrolling trained women police officers; and launching campaigns to sensitise citizens on community-building and constructive planning, can all contribute towards instilling a sense of security and reducing crime.
This is an amended version of the article republished with the permission of the author and DNA India, where it was originally published.
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About the Author
Minakshi Das is an LSE alumna working at WION (World is One News) as an In-House Counsel/Global Leadership Series Coordinator. She tweets @minakshi88das