Circle left Circle left Circle left

Safe Public Spaces

Public spaces are first and foremost spaces of coexistence, cohesion and a meeting point for different social groups and citizens in general. Well-designed and inclusive public spaces can match the everyday needs of their frequent and occasional users and promote social inclusion, integration and participation. Local authorities need to assess the potential vulnerabilities of urban public spaces linked to the emergence of conflict, insecurity or negative use of these urban areas. Mitigating such vulnerabilities requires an integrated approach that fosters the integration of minorities and vulnerable communities and renders places welcoming to diverse users.
A summary of the key lessons from the research in the field of designing and managing safe public spaces is presented below.

Scroll and find out more

Key Lessons

  1. Research highlights the value of compliance strategies that decentre the police and engage informal actors, civil society mediators and forms of persuasion, self-regulation and capacity building, rather than resort to coercive law enforcement, police, prosecution and punishment.
  2. By putting the community back into public space, a sense of ownership and guardianship over the space can emerge. Popular activities placed at the heart of empty public spaces can reclaim the space for legitimate users. This increases natural surveillance and the risk of detection of criminal and undesirable activities.
  3. Poorly maintained and managed spaces can feel unwelcoming and intimidating to legitimate users and may encourage disorder and disorderly behaviour. Interventions targeted at places and problems before they reach ‘tipping points’ in the escalation of risks and harms can impact positively on public perceptions and, hence, levels of use. Use of public space fosters perceptions of safety. Underused and desolate public spaces are often fear-inducing.
  4. There are significant gender differences with regard to perceptions of safety in public spaces across Europe. Across time, there have been some improvements, as measured by the European Social Survey since 2002/3 (when the survey first ran). Throughout Europe, overall feelings of safety have generally improved for both genders but women remain between 2.5 and 5.7 times more likely to feel unsafe than men in almost all countries. Overall gender differences remain stubbornly persistent.
  5. Much of the current public space literature either presents a very narrow focus for targeting specific behaviours and the immediate circumstances in which they occur, or entails a broad urban strategy that includes safety of public spaces as elements nested within a much wider overall framework. Strategies and programmes with other motivations, priorities, rationales and justifications may, nonetheless, impact positively on perceptions of safety and experiences of security. As such, consideration should be made as to how strategies pertaining to safety within public spaces are determined, as well as how they best fit the local contexts and address local issues.
  6. Crime prevention as a field has historically been the responsibility of policing, but in recent decades it has shifted to include a more comprehensive approach. In developing and implementing crime prevention mechanisms and strategies within public spaces, the need for a detailed and focused planning process – based on good quality scanning and analysis - is vital to gain valuable insight from numerous departments, stakeholders and local communities.
  7. Effective feedback and assessment from the community is a necessary element of any crime prevention strategy or initiative to improve the design and management of safe public spaces. Our findings indicate that many cities are employing community-wide safety assessments by which local citizens provide direct feedback concerning the safety and security of their neighbourhoods. Such assessments, sometimes complemented by open-source data, offer valuable insights into communities’ perceptions and priorities. It also requires authorities to consider the diverse composition of designated communities, specify the desired goals and outcome criteria and clarify the manner in which to use and share such assessments.
  8. From our findings, it is clear that crime prevention strategies for public spaces are more effective than simply implementing formal prevention elements. Consideration should be given to community-based strategies that decentre the police and law enforcement and engage informal actors, civil society mediators and forms of persuasion, self-regulation and capacity building aligned to local contexts and needs.
  9. One of the main prevention elements specifically identified in this focus area was the use of CCTV, but findings from this Review indicate mixed outcomes. Research suggests that CCTV has been implemented too indiscriminately with insufficient regard to the benefits, costs, outcomes and their sustainability within specified contexts. When used as an independent prevention element, CCTV seems to lack any particularly effective results, but can be effective when included in a comprehensive prevention strategy.