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The value of risk in designing public space
According to our newspapers, a simple walk in the street or park is becoming ever more dangerous. Horse-chestnut trees have been taken down because conkers may drop on passing pedestrians, and swings facing into the sun have been removed for fear that children may be blinded. The very things that make our streets, parks and squares interesting places are being stripped out for fear of causing an accident or injury, and the willingness to create new and exciting features in public spaces is being subdued for fear of future liabilities. This disproportionate response to risk is making our public spaces far duller for the majority of us. Arguably the debate over litigation and compensation is a superficial symptom of a deeper set of cultural issues reflecting our relationship with our surroundings. In What are we scared of? CABE Space has invited four distinguished thinkers to relate their views of how we deal with risk in our use of public space. Running through each piece is the idea that tolerance of risk is a necessary stimulus for us to be able to understand, enjoy and deal with our urban environment. CABE believes we should be creating inspiring and stimulating places. We hope this inspires your view of the world too. Julia Thrift, Director, CABE Space
02 Risk and the creation of liveable cities Charles Landry 12 The assessment of risk is a very personal affair Dorothy Rowe 20 Stimulating the senses in the public realm Iain Borden 34 Streets and the culture of risk aversion John Adams
Risk and the creation of liveable cities
community organisations and the public sector operate. In 1994 Factiva noted 2. It heightens dangers and then 03 . A risk industry has formalised itself." The landscape of risk The evaluation of everything from a perspective of risk is a defining characteristic of contemporary society. consultants. Risk-consciousness is a growth industry: hardly a day passes without some new risk being noted. The notion of ‘an accident’ seems to have gone from our understanding. It is as if risk hovers over individuals like an independent force waiting to strike the unsuspecting citizen. Risk is the managerial paradigm and default mechanism that has embedded itself into how companies. school kids playing conkers in a school yard who need to wear goggles. or removing swings from parks through fear of injury. ‘It was just an accident or was it?’ an advert asks. with hindsight. John Adams notes that ‘bad luck transmutes into culpable negligence’ with the foresight of risk-taking being reinterpreted. It is similar to how acute awareness of marketing emerged as a core idea to operate business more than 30 years ago. This might concern personal safety. The media plays an important role in shaping perceptions of risk. Risk has its experts. yet that culture feeds on deeper fears. leading to claims of a ‘compensation culture’. avoid challenges and be sceptical about innovation. an associational structure and lobbying bodies. It plays a dual role. this rose to over 25. creating a climate that disposes us to expect bad outcomes. It subtly encourages us to constrain aspirations. This drives a tendency never to blame oneself or take responsibility.000 by 2003. specialist literature. Instead many litigate. Cleansing the world of accidents means scouring the world for someone to blame.037 mentions of the term ‘at risk’ in UK newspapers. act with overcaution. interest groups. into a consequence of negligence. The life of a community self-consciously concerned with risk and safety is different from one focused on discovery and exploration. It narrows our world into a defensive shell. Risk is a prism through which any activity is judged. a health scare.
Some say that what we now call bullying was once known as name-calling or office politics. 05 Risk and the creation of liveable cities . They left a legacy for those helping people to pursue claims.“Risk is a prism through which any activity is judged” rebukes when responses are too diligent. especially in the public sector. direct marketing. Claims management companies emerged five years ago after the Woolf Reform scrapped legal aid for personal injury. there’s a claim’. There are scares about new epidemics from BSE. such as assessing the financial viability of projects. all risks appear bad. Guidelines are drawn up on ‘worst-case scenarios’. Consciousness of risk comes in myriad forms. some of whom have up to 10. The Accident Group alone generated 15. The now collapsed claims management companies like The Accident Group (TAG) and Claims Direct fed an enormous number of claims into the system. Undoubtedly a perception exists that the public has a greater tendency to seek redress following an injustice or injury. with slogans such as ‘No win. Grabbing most headlines are safety concerns about personal injury and the notion of ‘compensation culture’. Newcastle. They gathered masses of claims by advertising on TV and radio. Some have been with us for a long time. with Blue Carpet. is far less than the risks caused by sedentary lifestyles encouraged by planning which reduces walkability in our settlements. Others concerned with safety and health are more recent: we are now more conscious of child abuse. to Ebola and other crossover viruses between animals and humans. There seem to be no more good risks. The mood of the times is ‘averting the worst’ rather than ‘creating the good’. It spectacularises certain issues and even creates panics. no fee’ or ‘Where there’s blame. in the press. Public health is another arena of safety-consciousness. Which risk factor emerges within the media or political battlefield can seem arbitrary. to Sars. The risk of food poisoning. bullying. People look for someone else to blame for their misfortune. Lawyers or insurance companies are less prepared to fund claims without high chances of success.000 claims per month and sold them on to solicitors.000 personal injury claims running. The opportunity side of risk-taking begins to disappear. though often highlighted. and abuse of the elderly. street canvassing or telesales.
guard rails and excessive signage and signalling. An environment emerges where suing is seen as an entitlement.dedicated departments acting like production lines to process them. embodied in the Construction. the process has affected urban professionals in pursuing innovations. which have created new professions such as planning supervisors. Design and Management (CDM) regulations. The boundaries of ‘foreseeable’ are continually being tested and stretched. There is little criticism of those safety improvements. There is a preference to go for tried and tested technology. with everything hinging on the word ‘reasonable’. Protecting against road accidents equally affects the look and feel of streets. Road-traffic accidents. Occupiers’ liability – say the liability of a housing association or supermarket to provide safe conditions. It is widely acknowledged that the industry had to dramatically improve its safety record. “The simultaneous rise of the risk and creativity agendas is one of the great paradoxes today” Occupiers’ liability affects the design of buildings and their aesthetic. one leading practice was asked: ‘Who can I sue when nobody is to blame?’ The major categories of claims which affect our living environment are fourfold: Employers’ liability in relation to injuries at work. what railings or banisters are acceptable to ensure no injuries? Liability under the Highways Act affects the streetscape: are materials slip-resistant? Could the design of street furniture cause injury? Are trees growing out of control and causing tripping? Should there be protective barriers so that pedestrians do not stray into roads? The only defence for local authorities is to have ‘a reasonable system of inspection’. 06 Risk and the creation of liveable cities . The basis of arguments concerns ‘was it reasonably foreseeable’ that an accident could occur. However. junctions or interchanges. materials or procedures. with a resulting increased clutter of barriers. Concerns about safety and health in the construction industry have been widespread and involve employers’ liability. Liability under the Highways Act – say in relation to tripping over a defect that is part of the public highway where the local authority has responsibility for maintenance.
explore and experiment to survive and be competitive in a globalised world. One is greater awareness of environmental sustainability. Yet for decades we have adapted the city to the car. These highlight walkability. a public realm and associated infrastructure that foster increased interaction between people. The sustainability agenda demands new ways of building and sometimes using novel materials. This means challenging how the built environment is put together. It means reconfiguring cities’ economic base and physically restructuring them to adapt to the new conditions of service-based industries. Leeds targets these for special attention. this has affected the culture of maintenance which is now conducted specifically with the avoidance of claims in mind rather than seeing the urban environment in terms of criteria such as ‘is it pleasing?’ or ‘does it feel attractive?’. another is the creation of more aesthetically satisfying places.“Misfortune cannot be blamed on acts of God so the blame must lie elsewhere” The rise in claims has forced local authorities to enhance their inspection and maintenance regimes. a third is the capacity of places to retain and attract the talent that can make them economically successful. when claims clusters occur in specific areas. We increasingly demand that citizens. and its needs have shaped the look. and pockets of severe disadvantage that often physically lie next to affluence. Significantly. feel and atmosphere of places. and urban settings that allow simultaneously for excitement and reflection. People want more from their cities so the quality-of-life and liveability agendas have come to the fore. given that risk-avoidance strategies often cancel out inventiveness. to crime and fear of crime. Often bold architecture and sensitive urban design play significant roles in this process. " The paradox of risk and creativity The simultaneous rise of the risk and creativity agendas is one of the great paradoxes today. with Leeds. Equally there are social issues to confront. For example. Cardiff and Liverpool often cited as having good strategies for maintenance guidance and procedures. new architecture 07 Risk and the creation of liveable cities . businesses and public institutions be creative. Yet cities need to be inventive to adapt to 21st-century needs. Thus new agendas are rising to the fore. from the implications of increased mobility and the growth of multicultural cities.
“People who believe they cannot cope will find it difficult to be responsible for their behaviour” 08 Risk and the creation of liveable cities . This loosening of ties feels like swimming in the rapids with free-floating anxieties. and its unintended effects and unconstrained pollution. Achieving these aims involves ‘good risks’. Those value bases anchored people. They confront the legacy of how things have been managed in the past. It is part of broader historical forces impacting on our sense of self and how we view the world. the speed and scope of globalisation. In addition there is a fear of out-of-control technology. is then experienced as frightening. From the early 1990s onwards a series of books highlighted a profound shift in our view of the modern world and our notion of progress embedded in the Enlightenment ethos. be they a religion. moving forward becomes doubly difficult. ideology. and the desire for more walkable places can tip the balance between pedestrians and cars. the arrogance and overconfidence of science and industrialism. " A trajectory of risk-consciousness What social and political conditions have encouraged a risk perspective on life? Asking the question does not denigrate the contribution risk-consciousness has made to address legitimate problems. giving purpose and direction. allowing them to negotiate life’s travails. This increasing disenchantment targets the Enlightenment’s unbounded optimism. When little can be taken for granted – like ties of family. community or other forms of solidarity – it is difficult to know which information to trust and what to predict. yet aligned to a culture of risk-aversion. All this has coincided with the decline of traditional ties that provided values and models for action and readily understandable identities for individuals. The paradox is that the freedom of choice projected as liberation.can push at the boundaries of the tried and tested within construction. The erosion of tradition and taken-forgranted relationships and responsibilities breaks continuities and establishes uncertainty within which individuals have to assess lifestyle options themselves. an ideology or a fixed community setting. What implications has risk culture for making and shaping liveable cities and how we lead our life as individuals? The pervasiveness of risk-consciousness and aversion comes from deeper anxieties about life. especially in the commercial world.
health hazards. It is a symptom of the cleavages that have made us fearful and risk-aware.Periods of transformation and transition can involve a mix of heady expectation and worry as the foundations are reassessed before they move to a more settled pattern. Everything is uncertain. This affects public perceptions Exchange Square. The ‘system’ is to blame for what is wrong. Risk-consciousness rises when conditions of uncertainty and the perception of powerlessness increase. An absence of trust in humanity shapes our perception of risk. or the imbalances created by globalisation. it mirrors the scenario of technology out-of-control. 09 Risk and the creation of liveable cities . Within this setting trust in oneself and others erodes. Unable to control pressing issues from environmental degradation to crime. based on commonly shared norms. Misfortune cannot be blamed on acts of God so the blame must lie elsewhere. on the part of other members of the community’. Francis Fukuyama defines trust as ‘the expectation that arises within a community of regular. Manchester. honest and co-operative behaviour.
The responsible individual as potential maker. risk moves to the centre of their work and increased resources are spent on risk assessment. alertness and self-responsibility lose sway. Blame is credited to an external force and the sense of responsibility is distanced from ourselves. as the science that now allows us to assess and calculate risk is the science that we blame for causing risk in the first place. valuers. That principle suggests we are not merely concerned about risk but are also suspicious of finding solutions. to architects. this shapes our norms of accountability. People who believe they cannot cope will find it difficult to be responsible for their behaviour. shaper and creator of the environment becomes a passive individual always on the receiving end. so overwhelming objective risk calculations. It is best not to take a new risk unless all outcomes can be understood in advance. It legitimates the growth of litigation and shifts individualism defined as self-sufficiency and personal responsibility to a rights-oriented individualism. and by making claims we assert our authority and identity. quantity surveyors. How responsibility and accountability are defined is determined by social and political norms. which is why the notion of the precautionary principle has gained currency. the expansion of the right to compensation is proportional to the shrinking of individual autonomy. The capacity to absorb the speed of change is difficult.“There is a merry-goround and pass-theparcel on risk” and the emotional frame which guides perceptions independent of the reality of risk. " How we create the urban form How does the risk environment affect the urban professions? From engineers. estate agents and property developers. project managers. vulnerability and impotence begins to shape self-identity. As Frank Furedi noted. Judgement remains the key in deciding where to act with caution and where to give leeway for experiment. This ranges from employing people with legal experience or risk assessors 10 Risk and the creation of liveable cities . If we focus on the fragility of people. land use planners. Ironically this raises a further paradox. He or she negotiates the world as a dangerous jungle with risks lurking in the undergrowth beyond the control of humanity. The author of circumstance becomes the victim of circumstance. Resilience. The sense of powerlessness.
In addition. 11 Risk and the creation of liveable cities . the fragmentation of the industry – with the growth in intermediaries such as project managers – tends to further increase risk aversion. In addition the exclusive focus on safety rather than health stunts debate about creating urban environments and developing a regulations and incentives regime that fosters healthy lifestyles. with everyone seeking to export their risk to someone else. The increased risk process tends to focus on managing the downside rather than considering potential. In this world of multiple contracting and intermediaries there is a merry-go-round and pass-the-parcel on risk. those in the new planning supervisory and safetyauditing roles have a vested interest in a climate of risk since it justifies their existence. so constraining their capacity to innovate and provide certain design features. and finally. Indeed. The biggest risk is not to take risks if we want to avoid creating depressing cities. the risks in conflict between users of our urban areas – motorists and pedestrians. and the way forward seems to be to develop risk-mitigation strategies by keeping close to clients and other contractors in a collaborative process of systematic risk assessment. and at the same time are predisposed to reduce risks. The following articles explore these distinct aspects of our risk conundrum: the individual’s perspective on taking risks in their environment. This ranges from encouraging public transport to providing walkable urban settings or cycling-friendly environments. the diversity of an environment able to provide those risks and opportunities. the palette of possibilities is shrinking. Whilst it can sharpen up practices.as part of instituting new management procedures to the increased costs of insurance cover for all professions beyond the level of inflation. In this process the broader goals and long-term perspectives of urban design can get lost.
The assessment of risk is a very personal affair Dorothy Rowe .
who designed the Diana Memorial Fountain. Thus. People behave intelligently in many different ways. The task must be to establish effective ways of discovering the different perceptions of a public space and then assessing them to decide which interpretations need to be included in the design and which perceptions might be modified through discussion and the dissemination of information. Of course they cannot help but do that because the way we each interpret whatever we encounter comes out of our past experience and. if they trust you. ‘intelligence’. think about Diana. said in an interview in The Guardian. no matter how wisely and imaginatively designers and architects create a public space. Early in the 20th century the French psychologist Binet observed that some children behaved more intelligently than others.1 Deploring the stupidity and lack of consideration for others that some people display in public spaces achieves nothing. ask them and. and just how intelligent this behaviour may be varies with how each person interprets each situation he encounters. and run their hands through the water. He set about creating tests to compare these differences in children’s behaviour. Psychologists who followed Binet stopped talking about children behaving intelligently and instead created an abstract noun. no two people ever interpret anything in exactly the same way. Psychologists spent nearly a hundred years trying to measure this fiction but now at last they have had to admit that intelligence does not exist. think about their lives. they will tell you. I apologise for that. They assumed that ‘intelligence’ was the name of some real thing which they could measure. The trouble with experts is that they love abstract nouns so much they often fall into the trap of thinking that if there is an abstract noun there must be some real thing to which that noun refers. I thought people would picnic near the memorial. 12 October 2004. People will persist in seeing everything in their own individual ways. each person who encounters that space will interpret it differently and consequently use it differently.The trouble with people is that they ruin the theories and the best-laid plans of experts. nor did she expect that rubbish would be thrown in. 13 . At the same time experts need to be well aware of their own perceptions and be as critical of them as they are of other people’s. This is the only way to arrive at compromises on which everyone can agree. If you want to know what people will do and why. since no two people ever have exactly the same experience.’ She went on to say that she had not anticipated that people would walk in the fountain or let their dogs run in the water. 1 The landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson. ‘I feel we made a mistake in letting people walk in the water.
we choose to die. explore. " The fear of being helpless Most of us can remember that. think and daydream. Statistics show that by far the majority of sexual assaults on children are made by men whom the child calls ‘daddy’. Yet increasingly many parents do not let their children play in public spaces no matter how physically safe the space may be. thus indirectly reassuring people that flying is a safe way to travel. ‘Risk’ is an abstract noun created to cover the multitude of ways in which individuals can perceive a situation in relation to their own personal safety. The aviation industry spends millions in advertising the pleasures and rewards of flying. as children we needed time away from adults. When we make decisions about our own personal safety it is not just our physical safety we consider. We interpret the probability of an adverse event in terms of surviving as a person. This is the thinking behind acts of great heroism and of suicide. yet many people refuse to fly or suffer agonies of terror if forced to step into a plane. despised and ignored. We need to survive physically. play with our friends or be on our own to look and wonder. Forced to choose between surviving as a body or surviving as a person we always choose to survive as a person and let our body go. and make amazing discoveries. as a body. When asked why this is so people talk in terms of the helplessness of a passenger once the aeroplane doors are closed and the passengers’ lives are in the hands of the pilot. Forced to choose between dying knowing that our life had significance and integrity or living on feeling that we are a nothing. ‘step-dad’ or ‘my big 14 The assessment of risk is a very personal affair . risk is not a thing nor is it an attribute of design or of public spaces. We needed places where we could run. whether our home was happy or unhappy. The feeling of being utterly helpless threatens to annihilate us as a person.“Risk is an abstract noun created to cover the multitude of ways in which individuals can perceive a situation in relation to their own personal safety” Similarly. An irresponsible media feeds such fears by not telling the truth about paedophiles. We all need to survive in two ways. but individuals then decide what that probability means to them. and we need to survive as the person we know ourselves to be. The mathematical probability of an event occurring can be calculated. ‘granddad’. and so we will behave in ways that other people see as illogical in order to avoid feeling helpless. These parents explain that there is always a danger that the child will be assaulted and perhaps kidnapped by a stranger who is a paedophile.
and anyone who may have power. we have chosen to hand over control rather than having it taken from us. Psychoanalysis produced something similar. or. are sure that if they complained they would be rebuffed and ignored. that we can trust the person or institution which has taken control.brother’. If something goes wrong they complain and expect it to be put right. many parents prefer not to acknowledge this. and second. Hence designers of public spaces are likely to feel that they choose whatever risks they take while people who feel helpless see risk being forced upon them. a cluster which psychologists call extraversion. Nevertheless. Whatever the questionnaire or the statistics used. first. Many of the people who use public spaces perceive themselves as being helpless in the hands of the government. " Control and company Another abstract noun which psychologists have turned into a fictional thing is ‘personality’. they are unaware that all professional bodies and government departments have well-worked-out procedures for complaint. they take pride in looking after themselves rather than risk being patronised by someone who has deigned to offer them help. or types. they fail to get good care from the NHS because ‘I don’t want to trouble the doctor’. with its opposite introversion. or feel that they can control what goes on in their home but are helpless to protect their child against the stranger. When people resist having good done to them by the experts or by the government they are showing that they do not trust the experts or the government. “When people resist having good done to them by the experts or by the government they are showing that they do not trust the experts or the government” We all acknowledge that there are situations where we have to let someone else take control and make the decisions about the dangers involved. the council. one particular cluster of correlations always appears. or factors. In contrast the people who design public spaces are less likely to see themselves as being helpless in the hands of the powers that be. if they are aware of these procedures. For us to do this without being reduced to a state of terrified helplessness we have to feel that. They say they never vote because their vote would make no difference. They have used questionnaires that through statistical wizardry have produced clusters of correlations which psychologists have called traits. 15 The assessment of risk is a very personal affair .
16 The assessment of risk is a very personal affair . Older people. This is why the perception of the amount of crime committed always exceeds the amount actually committed. Rather than feel helpless they may prefer to think that muggers and burglars are thinking of them. They may lack family and friends or. for example. Similarly. even if they have family and friends. whereas as extraverts we are more likely to trust someone we see as likeable and as liking us.Jung divided people into what he called extraverts and introverts. may find that these people are totally wrapped up in themselves and never spare them a thought. Many of the people who use public spaces do not like to admit even to themselves that in reality no one is thinking of them. Then they have a legitimate excuse to complain that the government is not thinking about them. can feel helpless in a society which ignores them. paranoia has a purpose. while people who fear abandonment are likely to prefer a space which is full of things that assure them they are not alone. The great benefit of paranoia is that it means someone somewhere is thinking of you. Freud called them hysterics and obsessionals. It assures the person that he is significant. people who fear chaos are likely to see public spaces that are neat and organised as being safer than the spaces they see as verging on the chaotic. However. In examining the reasons that people give to explain why they do what they do I have found that. We are not always aware of this. abandoned and rejected. as introverts we are more likely to trust someone we see as well organised and with a plan of which we approve. “The fear of chaos or the fear of abandonment plays a part in every interpretation we create” As a result. for each of us one of these two fates seems to be far worse than the other. " The pleasures of paranoia The people who plan and build public spaces often have good reason to think that many of those who comment on their work are not so much sensibly aware of possible dangers in the public space as thinking in totally paranoid ways. with the result that we can assess the safety of a public space without consciously recognising that it awakens our greatest fear. while we all fear losing control of everything and falling into chaos and we all fear being left absolutely alone. The fear of chaos or the fear of abandonment plays a part in every interpretation we create.
reward and punishment.’ However. but as belief in these three powers waned people started to look to this world as the place where justice is obtained. “…people started to look to this world as the place where justice is obtained” 18 The assessment of risk is a very personal affair . Many people who say they are not at all religious also say that they would find life intolerable if they could not believe that somehow in the end good people are rewarded and bad people are punished. Thus we are not helpless. The belief in the Just World not only satisfies our sense of justice.’ ‘It happened by chance. believing that they have been unfairly punished by some Power which is determined to destroy them. namely ‘It was my fault.’ People who blame themselves for a disaster are likely to become depressed. ‘Why?’ There are only three possible answers to this question. In the 19th and 20th centuries the trade unions fought for the right for workers to receive compensation if they were killed or injured by the negligence of their employers. In the Middle Ages people saw God. it also allows us to believe that we can keep ourselves and our loved ones safe by being good. ‘Why in the whole scheme of things has this happened?’ When Princess Diana died many of the flowers left for her carried cards which read. The choice becomes ‘It was my fault’ or ‘It was someone else’s fault. But chance does not exist in a Just World. in the Just World nothing happens by chance. Heaven and Hell as the means of balancing the scales of justice. People who blame others may become angry or paranoid. The ‘why’ question is the theological or philosophical question." ‘It’s not fair’ In a world beset with disasters and suffering most people comfort themselves by believing that they live in a Just World where goodness is rewarded and badness is punished. though religions differ in how they define good and bad. When these cases went to court what was fiercely argued by the lawyers on both sides was whether someone was to blame for the accident or whether the accident happened by chance. When a disaster occurs we always ask two questions: ‘How did this happen?’ and ‘Why did this happen?’ The ‘how’ question is the subject of inquiries and coroners’ courts.’ ‘It was someone else’s fault. or they may seek redress for having been unfairly punished by claiming damages from some institutional source whom they see as having failed to protect them. All religions teach this.
However. They want to remain as children looked after by their parents. There is a balance between order and chaos which both introverts and extraverts find acceptable. and the more freedom we have. Yet it is only through debate that we can reach those compromises that we can all regard as satisfactory. or God the Father. " What’s to be done? Everyone wants to be free and everyone wants to be secure. They do not want to recognise that they are adults responsible for themselves in a world which is indifferent to their existence. while the need for order and rulefollowing stifles originality and passion.“The choice becomes ‘It was my fault’ or ‘It was someone else’s fault’” Many people find it impossible to accept that they live in a world where things happen by chance and for which there is no recompense or reward. There needs to be an on-going public debate about how we perceive chance and responsibility. There can be no optimum balance of freedom and security in a public place because each person who uses that space will have a different view of what constitutes the right balance. Consequently many people continue to feel helpless. Those public spaces which work well are those where the planners have managed to create a design where the discrepancies between the views of the people using that space are not too disparate. the less security. the less freedom. the more security we have. Such a balance cannot be achieved in all our public spaces if people believe that they are entitled to recompense for every single disaster that befalls them. Like all children they resent their parents interfering in their lives but at the same time they want to be certain that they are being looked after by their parents. Hence complaints about ‘the nanny state’ exist beside the demand that people should be protected from and recompensed for any disaster they may suffer. 19 The assessment of risk is a very personal affair . without any say in what happens to them. or by the government and by professional and business institutions. a point at which no one feels unduly constrained or unduly exposed to danger. Public debates seem to be confined to the articulate and the educated. At present the mechanisms for public discussion are unsatisfactory because most people feel that they are excluded from the debate.
Stimulating the senses in the public realm Iain Borden .
This. as internalised. Yet while malls are perhaps ideal places to shop. then. pain-free consumerism where there is always a place to sit down. Such public realms are a Utopia. is what public space should be – contented. controlled and sterile arenas – cleared of all litter and ‘undesirable‘ people – malls suggest that we are only citizens in so far as we consume. This. a toilet to be found and a new product to be purchased. to create places of uncertainty. food courts. Rather. galleries. particularly large ones. large sculptures. Malls insist that we know what we want and that we do not want to be truly surprised. Predominant among spaces that tend to remove risk are shopping malls. wailing sirens or speeding couriers. They offer architecture of an apparently high quality. Furthermore. or to tolerate or even encourage risk. and so erase danger. are they really good public space? For they offer few of the qualities of real cities. we now have museums. the tendency is to encourage risk. much of the joy of public spaces comes from their surprising qualities. many contend. Here. which increasingly provide myriad fashion shops and other retail outlets. However. These are places of safety and certainty. from not always knowing them or the people they contain. a drink to be quaffed. places where there are no homeless people. The internalised and predictable world of the shopping mall 21 . railway stations and airports that are increasingly becoming similar shopping opportunities – they are part of that process by which it seems all public and semi-public spaces are turning into places of consumerism. none of the vitality and downright unpredictability of the full-on urban experience. historical styles. as well as such facilities as multi-screen cinemas. and even rock-climbing walls or tennis courts. and so enjoy the unexpectedness of our cities and fellow citizens. ample parking for all.One of the main tendencies in public space has been to minimise risk – providing mini-cities in which risk has been all but removed. blending wide concourses. is an essential tension in public space – whether to remove risk. variegated colours and playful light.
But what does this mean in practical terms? The most obvious way people can have new public spaces to suit their own needs is simply to go out and make them. Fourthly. They can do this through simple economic activities such as boot-sales and church fairs. Everything we do helps make the public realm. making music and falling in love. sitting and looking that make up public spaces.So there are indeed risks here – the risks of losing sight of what a vital civic arena could be. walking. or there may be a feeling that White British cultural spaces are at variance with Asian British cultural spaces. smell and hearing. so that each of us might be at once a photographer and a scaffolder. In short. In short. it is not only the activities of shopping. we should realise that space is produced by all of us. or guerilla-like tactics of ‘war-chalking’ (marking walls with chalk to indicate the presence of wireless internet links). and that political rights and critical thoughts are replaced by docile and accepting minds. that we consume only by purchasing. if children can play. we all make the public realm and the public realm makes us. why not all of us? One of the most pervasive forms of play in the urban realm is that of skateboarding – practised by millions in just about every country worldwide – which readily demonstrates many questions posed by a truly risky public space: who owns the 22 Stimulating the senses in the public realm . attitudes and stages in our lives. that our bodies become passive. Secondly. we can also delight in being different within ourselves. from commuting and driving to using our senses of touch. The risk of the city-as-shoppingmall is that public space becomes only for consumerism. Thirdly. or through artistic acts like busking and street performances. " Playing with risk How then might our public spaces be different? Firstly. different people have different ways of using public space – the elderly may think about the public realm differently from those who are younger. with how we create public spaces at various times. old and young… we can take risks with ourselves. to emotional experiences like talking.
Yet the actual damage caused by skateboarding is overstated – very little damage occurs to benches and ledges. and that the way we use public space is an essential factor in who we are. Disaffected both by the harshness of city streets and by the glossy displays of shopping malls. As a result. For example. that one should use the public realm regardless of who one is or what one owns. skateboarders have transformed these territories into their own play space. Now. who has the right to use it. And I have yet to find a single example of a skateboarder actually colliding with a pedestrian – this surely 23 Stimulating the senses in the public realm . and with what kind of actions and attitudes?1 Skateboarders focus their activities on city streets. with how we create public spaces at various times. the dissatisfaction with streets and malls – which both repel the human body and turn it into an instrument of vision – is confronted by a newly invigorated body. embedded in skateboarding’s actions are not only transformations of dull space into stimulating arenas of activity. shopping. the physical damage skateboarders might cause to the built environment. anti-consumerism attitude which they often seem to promote. office plazas and myriad semi-public spaces such as staircases. This is a very different kind of experience of the city to that of. Most importantly. but also implicit critiques of what public space should be. including bodily harm to practitioners and other city dwellers. these appropriated skateboarding places are often public. skateboarding suggests that architecture can be micro-spaces and not just grand monuments. there are risks associated with activities like skateboarding.“…we can take risks with ourselves. Here then. that we can produce not only things and objects but also desires and energies. adaptable and alive. the perceived threats posed to conventional modes of behaviour. park benches. multi-sensory. adrenalin and balance. walking or looking. attitudes and stages in our lives” public realm. hearing. driving. that public space is for uses rather than exchange. and the general anti-work. window ledges and shop forecourts. the noises they make. particularly if they are designed to withstand skateboarding rather than to repel it. for example. The skateboarder’s own body becomes alert with touch.
New York does happen. For example. and which can even be entrepreneurial (for example. clothing companies and video production facilities). in the fresh air. for instance. skateboarders can do something physical and independent. but who are outside.Pocket park. but compared to. By taking the risk of skateboarding in public. we can have cities in which these citizens 25 Stimulating the senses in the public realm . as well as all the other problems created by cars (see John Adams’ article for some sobering thoughts on this matter). the thousands of pedestrians killed by motorised traffic. skateboarding encourages active young people who are not watching television. There are enormous benefits from encouraging activities such as skateboarding within particular public contexts. this is not an insuperable problem. and by skateboarders themselves taking the risk of moving in this way. skateboarders often set up professional teams. And so by us taking the risk of allowing skateboarding to occur. which lets them meet other people.
is not the city of shouting. boot-sales. By contrast. for example. Such public space is. industrial buildings turned into bars and restaurants. If we are prepared to take the risk. designer lamps and fresh pasta. above all. however. the city of the disparate activities that people actually do in cities – and this is extremely important. the alternative. galleries. running. theatre. a certain model of polite society permeates through. more open to real urban spaces than are. It is not the city of intensity. It is the city of latte coffee.“If we are prepared to take the risk. these are our rewards: the unpredicted. " Designing for risk But how can we design or manage our public spaces to allow for such risks? On the one hand. surprising ways of living in cities. In many propositions for public space there is an underlying model of urban life resting on the ancient notion of civilisation as the art of living in cities: the art of painting. we get strange sounds and colours in our streets.2 The 26 Stimulating the senses in the public realm . the city of gentle wanderings and spoken conversations. more fit. Here. of cab ranks. many television-fixated and computerobsessed teenagers. nor is it the city of monkish seclusion. while there is often the occasional nod to everyday life and even the appropriation of space. town halls. grand public squares. crystal-clear intellectualism or ephemeral art interventions. It is not. as Dorothy Rowe explains. Adriaan Geuze and West 8 have created a series of provocative public spaces. then. subterranean subterfuges. surprising ways of living in cities” are more healthy. we can do this by creating a multitude of those different spaces which conventionally make up the public realm – not just shopping malls but also traditional neighbourhood parks. railway arches or street markets. for. we get something vibrant to look at besides shop windows. This. independent-minded fellow citizens. We get healthy. these are our rewards: the unpredicted. and Ferris wheels. non-lager-lout. above all. in the Netherlands. the alternative. and. we get something different. And even for those who do not skateboard there are also benefits. But we need to be careful. which we might not have expected to come across. no two people ever have quite the same experience or view on things. big Sunday papers. music. demonstrations. sculpture. loud music. pure contemplation.
27 Stimulating the senses in the public realm . The effect is at once calm and unsettling. They were also concerned that the peripheral location of the park might mean that it was invisible to all but local residents. Although this might now appear to be a successful artistic intervention. placed below some elevated railway tracks on the outskirts of Amsterdam. At night.Schouwburgplein. it was not an easy park to create. moody and almost unsettling in the way that light. at times empty and eminently ignorable (especially during the day). the latter glow and cast shadows over the concrete columns and undersides of the overhead bridges. and at others (particularly after nightfall). Rotterdam Carrascoplein Shadow Park. is made up of what initially appears to be little more than an artificial wooded landscape: grass and asphalt surfaces littered with cast-iron tree stumps lit up from within. The designers and local planners were at first concerned that they might be creating a terrain even more threatening than the already alienating nature of the underpasses. shadows and colour flicker across the site. ambient.
many of whom now feel much more willing to traverse the space. of course. but a different one to that at the Carrascoplein Shadow Park. as well as by those seeking an alternative urban experience – in this case. a large square divided into different surface textures such as perforated and box-section steel. creating another layer of light and colour. and the risk of the Schouwburgplein is in letting users act in uncertain ways. highlighted. they consciously took the risk that these qualities could be manipulated into something new. This composition encourages different activities. then another way of taking risks in the public realm is in the very process by which it is created – that is. the Carrascoplein Shadow Park has been welcomed by local pedestrians. just as the looming presence of a wood at night can be transformed into a welcoming camp-site by the introduction of a campfire. As a result. Overhead. “The risk of doing something quite strange in an out-ofthe-way location has been repaid by improvements in the quality of the place. timber and rubber. the design itself was well understood from the start. If the risk of the Carrascoplein Shadow Park was being able to control the character of the park.. At the Schouwburgplein. such as football on the timber. their actions being at once subtly encouraged. as they wish.However.” More monumental is the Schouwburgplein in Rotterdam. but particularly along a long rubber strip. The risk of doing something quite strange in an out-of-the-way location has been repaid by improvements in the quality of the place and its attractiveness to people living elsewhere in Amsterdam. the general walking that criss-crosses wherever people wish. The park is a kind of informal game. a dance of light and shadows. spotlights on giant crane-like ‘anglepoises’ respond either to coins inserted by members of the public. within certain constraints. or to a pre-programmed random sequence – in this way the spotlights spasmodically energise the square. a playground for movements and experiences of all kinds. and the risk has been in letting those who use the space do with it.. rollerblading on the epoxy and. Those using the Schouwburgplein thus do what they wish. In this context. The designers have created a multi-purpose board game in which we as urban citizens are the pieces on the board. it is instructive Schouwburgplein. free to make up our own rules and actions. Rotterdam 29 Stimulating the senses in the public realm . guided and flexibly accommodated. by taking risks with who is involved and what they want. Here the designers have again taken a risk.
created by such entities as a church spire. it is also a place where there are pressing social issues that need to be addressed urgently. The result of risking the commissioning and designing process has been a series of zones of safety and play. This was not an easy area in which to operate. In order to address these issues. Such a process can never be quick. walk. operating collaboratively with landscape architects Loci and artists Graham Fagen and Toby Paterson (incidentally. one where people can sit. Emphasised on this site is the immediate. the risk was always that the very local community which Royston Road Parks was intended to benefit might become alienated from the project. the constructed scheme has not just preserved a local landmark known as the Spire but has also brought training and employment to the area.3 30 Stimulating the senses in the public realm . a burn of water. skateboard. cogitate and converse. creating the Parks using a local workforce and six artist residencies hosted by local groups. for not only is Royston Road Parks situated at an historically significant location – the point where the Molendinar Burn (around which Glasgow evolved) flows above ground – but. cycle. At each stage. The idea here has been to involve the arts in real community development. the bond of people and their common effort. a noted skateboarder). and to bring the community along with the project. then. despite several contentious debates and heated moments. Royston Road passes through priority areas for every social funding strand from the regeneration of housing to alcohol and drug rehab. and intense local activity. workshops and public displays of proposals were undertaken. but which are also involved with community and local concerns. an initiative far less monumental or artful in appearance than the Dutch projects already described. the project has emerged as a highly beneficial public realm. more importantly. In particular it shows that the process of creation of public space can often be as important as the final product itself. is about creating public realms which are not simply agreeable or stimulating. In particular. consultations. Risk here. free to make up our own rules and actions” to consider Royston Road Parks in Glasgow.“The designers have created a multi-purpose board game in which we as urban citizens are the pieces on the board. In the end. many meetings.
They might soak up economic and other resources. familiar and unknown to us” On the other hand. there is the possibility that the public spaces might be dangerous and become centres of drug-taking or mugging. Using design to stimulate people – but without trying to wholly determine their actions – means that we take risks with our fellow citizens. gender and general interests all have different ideas of what public space is. and be castigated as a waste of money. “We need a city that we do not know. These differences are all about risk-taking. mentally and artistically – these are public spaces which stimulate our actions. classes. There are of course different kinds of risk involved in creating these kinds of public space. On the negative side. This difference requires the risk of recognising 31 Stimulating the senses in the public realm . museum or urban plaza. we must realise that public space – space that is truly public – acknowledges four kinds of difference. races. we must realise that new kinds of public realm can be designed not just to make us more efficient consumers. that we do not understand. about allowing for the uncertain. Alternatively. and that they make their own places to foster their own identities. and they can yield results long after they were first constructed. accepting that we should let the public realm not only reflect but encourage the full range of positive human actions and qualities. In this way. there are also huge positive benefits to be gained. risks that pay off massively in terms of culture. might not be used at all. then. and new understandings of what the city might be all about. unpredictable and not-wholly-programmed to occur. such spaces. sexuality. they involve the community and help bring in new skills and work. The first of these differences means accepting that people of different backgrounds." Difference and risk Where then does this leave our understanding of the public realm and risk? Above all. feelings and attitudes to the world. but to encourage us to be healthy physically. we can have public spaces that are different to the shopping mall. Above all. that is simultaneously strange. community involvement and even economics. that we have not yet encountered. particularly the more artistic ones. ages. they create new uses by members of the public. and worse still. might be misunderstood by the public.
rough spaces and smooth spaces. get scared. or to hang around in parks. We need times that are slow and times that are fast.that we are not all the same. Beyond the piazza and avenue. it means taking the risk of allowing people to do things outside of the conventional time patterns of the daily sleep-work-rest cycle. It means letting people remember private thoughts as well as national events. about allowing for certain parts of the city to be used differently at various times of the day. strange. a unique place. that we have not yet encountered. even that we ourselves might not be quite who we think we are. make things. a stimulation. that is simultaneously. that we do not understand. familiar and unknown to us. We need spaces in which we encounter otherness and sameness. cities need hidden spaces and exposed spaces. times given to us by our bodies and times controlled by machines. It means letting skateboarders use office plazas on the weekend. responding to local actions and not just global trends. The third kind of difference is about times. loud spaces and silent spaces – spaces where people remember. We need a city that we do not know. The second kind of difference is physical. Carrascoplein Shadow Park. lose things. And the fourth kind of difference is the experience we have of spaces. This means allowing people to go faster on pavements than the speed of the slowest pedestrian. This difference requires the risk of having true diversity in city spaces. and that these spaces should encourage or tolerate – not exclude or repel – all that people do. from not knowing everything around us. contest. experience. week or year. visual and designed. the way in which we approach our cities and architecture. This is public space which is always a surprise. and generally become themselves. and means realising that public spaces should not all look the same. from a degree of surprise and the unusual as we go about our everyday lives. This difference requires the risk of not always knowing what lies around the corner. or the weekly and annual work-weekend-work-holiday. appropriate. where we are at once confirmed and challenged – and this comes from not being certain. Amsterdam 33 Stimulating the senses in the public realm .
Streets and the culture of risk aversion John Adams .
Making roads more forgiving of careless driving. The fine detail that can be appreciated at walking speeds is invisible to the motorist. The street life of our towns and cities has been damaged by this deference manifesting itself in two complementary ways. The root cause is the enormous growth in traffic since the Second World War and the deference shown towards motor vehicles. road users have retreated before the threat posed by the increase in traffic. and for the provision of somewhere convenient to park when they reach their destinations. Fundamentally there is a difference in the way those designing and those using our streets perceive the road. As the number of vehicles grows.“…people moving at three miles per hour view the world at a higher level of resolution than those moving ten times faster” A great many streets in British cities are unattractive and unfriendly. This has resulted in a streetscape dominated by features designed for the safety and convenience of people moving at 30 miles per hour. " The present situation and how we arrived at it For decades the principal objective of transport planners and highway engineers has been the provision of a road network that would accommodate rapidly growing numbers of cars as safely and efficiently as possible. more vulnerable. and in parallel other. The room for manoeuvre is literally getting less. In contrast. And where engineers and safety organisations like the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents have been concerned 35 . the aesthetic sensibilities of motorists have traditionally been of no concern to highway engineers who have been focused on: Providing sufficient road space to meet forecast demand. Providing signage and other road markings that can be read at speed. Planning for ever more crashworthy vehicles. Transport planners and engineers have accorded the motorist priority over other road users. people moving at three miles per hour view the world at a higher level of resolution than those moving ten times faster. and organising other priority measures to ensure maximum flow. Synchronising traffic lights. While some would argue that this is down to poor design or maintenance. balancing the risks to different street users becomes increasingly difficult. In any event. these unwelcoming streets are just symptoms of a bigger problem.
the surveys have never recorded the walking involved in the on-street recreational activities of children.3 Today no school of which I have inquired will release a child of that age at the end of the school day unless there is an older ‘responsible’ person to collect them. more vulnerable shells have retreated before the threat. The consequences of policies. and partly as a response to schools’ fears of legal liability should one of their charges come to harm.and eight-year-old children went to school on their own.2 only partly because former cyclists and pedestrians have switched to cars. cyclists and people on foot. unaccompanied by an adult. As a result fewer of us know our neighbours and we spend more of our waking hours in the presence of strangers. warning children that anyone they don’t know might intend them harm – inculcating paranoia at a tender age. As the amount of metal in motion has increased. we spend less time close to home. Adults become more fearful for themselves as well 2 It is not possible to be more precise because the early National Travel Surveys did not record walking trips of under one mile. The schools respond with ‘Stranger Danger’ campaigns. The fear of harm relates not just to the damage that might be inflicted when fast-moving hard metal meets soft flesh. have been profound. The use of local public-transport services has declined by more than 50 per cent in the past 50 years. often requiring a wait in the middle of the road. that have privileged cars and the people in them above local public transport. or channelling them through ‘cattle pens’. This policy has evolved partly as a response to parental fears. best-documented demonstration of this effect relates to children.Kew Bridge. and encouraging parents to keep young children on reins. Road-safety education in schools that preaches deference to traffic. The clearest. in the form of: Preventing pedestrians from straying into the paths of cars by forcing them to use inconvenient footbridges or foul-smelling tunnels. Since 1950 there has been a more than six-fold increase in the distance that the average Briton travels in a day. but to a growing fear of strangers. applied over many decades. London about the safety of those not in cars. 37 Streets and the culture of risk aversion .1 Cycling and walking have declined by at least as much. those with softer. In 1971. they have favoured measures that promote increased deference to the car. 80 per cent of seven. Advertising campaigns warning pedestrians and cyclists of the danger of traffic. As we spend more time far from home.
at the time of writing. those with softer. The government considers continued growth in vehicle numbers inevitable: ‘Our transport strategy has to recognise that demand for travel will increase in the future. Both those planning and maintaining the streets and those using them are becoming more risk averse. the approach to dealing with traffic growth has focused on ways of accommodating it. by making motoring faster and cheaper they will encourage more of it. As more people take to cars. that would accommodate further growth.231. those left behind on foot. As escalating insurance premiums attest. in its report ‘Tackling Congestion by Making Better Use of England’s Motorways and Trunk Roads’.700. cycle or the local bus feel increasingly isolated in the midst of strangers.900. Mistrust also afflicts those who plan and maintain our streets. Most of the growth in vehicle numbers has been. the on-street car park in older urban areas has been full for some time. The following year surpassed this record with 3. To the extent that such pursuits are successful. The forecast for 2004. takes the government to task for not adopting measures. and technological developments that will make cars cleaner and more energy efficient. and must continue to be. Established highway engineering practices Traditionally.6 In each of the last four years of record 6 The National Audit Office. supported by government. accommodated by suburban sprawl. ‘smarter travel’ employing telematics to squeeze more capacity out of existing networks.137. they are fearful of personal injury claims caused as a result of the state of the street. is a number of a similar size – another record or nearly so.’5 This growth places under enormous pressure those whose jobs require them to manage traffic and parking and the wider environmental consequences. There exists no coherent plan for dealing with the anticipated further growth. has targeted the lion’s share of resources for transport problems at alternative energy supplies. more vulnerable shells have retreated before the threat” as for their children. " Drivers of risk aversion Continuing car growth4 The root cause of the decline of street quality shows no sign of abating.“As the amount of metal in motion has increased. The focus on technical fixes Industry. such as hardshoulder-running. In 2001 a record number of new motor vehicles were sold in Britain – 3.229. 38 Streets and the culture of risk aversion .400. while 2003 produced yet another record – 3. The pressure on these practices is enormous.
barriers and road markings are not the work of any single planner. the nation’s vehicle population has increased by more than 800. London motor-vehicle sales. The road layouts illustrated and their accompanying signs. Pedestrians routinely disregard red lights (in Britain red lights for pedestrians are merely advisory. Despite the vast amount of this clutter spread throughout the land – while it may speed the flow of traffic – there is surprisingly little statistical evidence that it produces safety. Meanwhile the older urban areas. Safety concerns One result of all these pressures and attempts to cope with them has been the ugly. The primary justification for almost all the clutter will be safety – to prevent motor vehicles from running into pedestrians. the size of a new motorway from London to Edinburgh nine lanes wide. But the main limitation of this approach stems from the assumption by its installers that people will behave like obedient automatons. Then highway engineers will have produced a design for getting it through the junction as efficiently as possible. struggle to squeeze in a few more parking places by encroaching on pavements. allowing for the scrapping of old vehicles. signals.000. Beyond a certain point. A brief period of observation of such a junction will confirm that they do not. it produces information overload and becomes confusing rather than helpful to those trying to negotiate their way through it. not mandatory). as it accumulates over time. each year.7 Most planning consents for new commercial or residential development still require sufficient parking space for the anticipated. they are the cumulative result of numbers of unco-ordinated interventions. Providing only one parking space for each of these extra vehicles would require a new parking lot. fearful of losing custom to the suburbs. growing.Marble Arch. And finally thought will have been given to the needs of pedestrians. Typically traffic engineers will have calculated the volume of traffic that must be accommodated. cluttered urban streetscape highlighted by the recent English Heritage Save Our Streets campaign. the space previously reserved for pedestrians. numbers of cars. And they are frequently found on the wrong side 39 Streets and the culture of risk aversion . or each other.
There are countless roads in Britain carrying high volumes of fast traffic that the people living alongside them deem dangerous. children are forbidden “Traditionally. preferring the hypotenuse to the other two sides of the triangle wherever possible.Road junction. there were more than three times as many children killed in road accidents than there are today. And they are routinely fobbed off with the highway engineer’s accident map showing that their road must be safe because it has a good accident record.8 In 1922. the approach to dealing with traffic growth has focused on ways of accommodating it” 40 Streets and the culture of risk aversion . but because they are seen as so dangerous that children are not allowed out any more. and for which they appeal for traffic-calming measures. pedestrians are natural Pythagoreans. Gloucestershire of the barriers. not because the roads are three times safer to play in today. There is little statistical evidence of the effect on safety of the sorts of measures illustrated because accident statistics do not provide a reliable measure of road safety. for example. It usually has a good accident record because it is dangerous.
On any local high street thronged with shoppers. Experiments in Denmark and the Netherlands have been undertaken in more challenging circumstances. to convey to all participants that no one has an automatic right of way. everybody else. signs and signals. They have succeeded in circumstances where the ratio of pedestrians to cars is high. Neal Street and Seven Dials in Covent Garden. but reduced accidents as well. People on one side of the road do not know their neighbours on the other. and injecting uncertainty into the encounters between motorists and pedestrians and cyclists. " Bucking the trend There exist encouraging counter examples to the scenes depicted. the circumstances in which this is feasible are relatively few. The good accident record is purchased at the cost of community severance. are successful British examples. However. and fit adults cross it quickly and carefully.9 “Despite the vast amount of this clutter spread throughout the land – while it may speed the flow of traffic – there is surprisingly little statistical evidence that it produces safety” These experiments have been based on the antithesis of the traditional highway engineer’s view of motorists and pedestrians as obedient automatons. They demonstrate that where the street environment can be reconfigured. Clearly this is not a method recommended for helping pedestrians across the M25. without explicit signage. they start crossing the road at numerous unapproved places. They assume road users are alert to signs of safety and danger and modify their behaviour accordingly. The more difficult challenge is to accommodate both people and cars in a more civilised and attractive way. planners have not only removed the clutter that defaces so many British streets. and respect. old people are afraid to cross it. it is possible to create a safer environment without the usual clutter. and that all must look out for. and traffic slows down and tries to nudge its way through the crowd. London. as pedestrian numbers build up beyond some critical point.to cross it. The relationship that cars and pedestrians have with each other is critically dependent on relative numbers. As schooling fish trying to avoid 41 Streets and the culture of risk aversion . By stripping out all road markings. Some of the most attractive urban environments to be found in Britain and throughout Europe are those that have been completely pedestrianised.
on the part of those responsible for decisions to install. Fear of legal liability. there is safety in numbers. Some heavily trafficked roads in central London with little pedestrian street life became. to be ‘reasonable’. all or part of the clutter shown in our pictures. of increasing pertinence. in the event of an accident. is no longer baseless paranoia. Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 is a rule book the size of a telephone directory that spells out in great detail the legally required shape. At the time of writing there are six road accident cases outstanding that could lead to prosecutions of the authorities responsible for the roads on which they happened. Without measures to encourage more pedestrian and cycling activity. But what is frequently unclear are the circumstances in which their installation is required by law. Creating attractive urban environments requires not only the suppression of motorised traffic but also the promotion of street life to take its place. or not install. even more intimidating to vulnerable road users. Also at the time of writing the government is consulting on a draft bill to reform 42 Streets and the culture of risk aversion . but also to its speed. Another manifestation of this phenomenon is the much lower fatality rate enjoyed by (unhelmeted but much more numerous) Dutch and Danish cyclists. where their installation might be deemed by a court of law. after the introduction of congestion charging. the reduced flows of traffic go faster. enjoying the benefit of hindsight after an accident. all involved fatal accidents where the police concluded there was no driver error and no problem with the vehicle.“…pedestrians are natural Pythagoreans.11 And the risk to those planners contemplating a departure from established practice appears likely to increase. preferring the hypotenuse to the other two sides of the triangle wherever possible” predators and swarms of cyclists asserting their right to the road have learned. size and placement of all traffic signs – if they are put in place.10 Pedestrians and cyclists react not just to the volume of motorised traffic. " Impediments to further progress A major inhibition in England to replicating the encouraging Covent Garden examples and the Dutch and Danish experiments is the uncertainty about the legal status of measures such as those depicted here. is recommended in the form of official ‘guidance’ or is simply highway engineers’ long-established practice – or.
the most important impediment to the development of more attractive towns and cities is the growth of traffic. and pedestrians and cyclists continue to retreat. Early signs are encouraging. But they are swimming against a powerful current. in the event of a fatal accident. as in Denmark and the Netherlands. As motorised traffic continues to grow. and arguing that removing the guard rails constituted conduct falling far below what could be reasonably expected of a safety-conscious planner. The growth of the blame-litigation-compensation culture14 makes this a real and inhibiting prospect for those tempted to abandon the obedient automaton theory of road-user behaviour. Headrow. But inevitably on such a busy street the law of averages dictates that someone some day will be killed. so good. The opportunity to innovate and reconfigure streets to balance users’ needs exists but fears of risk and litigation only serve to undermine it. Leeds 13 Accidents involving vulnerable road users have decreased. the pressures on planners and policy makers to play safe will increase. One can imagine a queue of no-win-no-fee lawyers forming to represent the bereaved.“These experiments have been based on the antithesis of the traditional highway engineer’s view of motorists and pedestrians as obedient automatons” the law on manslaughter to include an offence of ‘corporate killing’ – the intended effect of which is to increase the likelihood.13 So far. of someone in senior management going to jail for ‘conduct falling far below what can reasonably be expected of the corporation in the circumstances’. no adverse effect on safety has been reported. Throughout Europe all the best exemplars of urban design are becoming small ‘islands of civilisation’ surrounded by a rising sea of car-dependent suburbs. Fundamentally.12 In London the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has recently transformed Kensington High Street by stripping out guard rails and much excessive signage and signalling – hugely improving its appearance. There are numerous urban designers and organisations who have been challenging the traditional assumptions of highway engineers for many years. 43 Urban streets and the culture of risk aversion . but because parts of the scheme have been in place for less than three years officers still advise caution in the interpretation of the accident statistics. Large volumes of motorised traffic cannot co-exist with safe and attractive pedestrian environments.
New York. (2003) ‘In defence of bad luck’.geog. Glasgow. pp205–209. Frank. Newcastle. Page 4: Blue Carpet. 10.uk/~jadams/PDFs/ 800%20pound%20gorilla%20plus%2 0ensuing%20letters. John. Ulrich. 2.pdf] 9. [Available online at www. (1997) A culture of fear: risk taking and the morality of low expectation. John. John. (2004) ‘A street revolution’. S. Report on legal action to sue rail companies for not fitting seatbelts on trains. Page 24: Skater in public space. Adriaan Geuze. University of Newcastle. 29 November 2004. Vol. English Heritage/Save our Streets. Sage. English Heritage/Save our Streets. Frank. Niklas. Adriaan Geuze. Jacobsen. P. 22 March –11 June 2003. John.com/Articles/ 00000006E02C. Countryside Agency/Doorstep Greens. London. Luhmann. Page 43: Headrow. Anthony. Giddens. Cambridge. Chance. 9. (1988) ‘Evaluating the effectiveness of road safety measures’. 71 (3). and Whitelegg. Adams. (1990) One false move…: a study of children’s independent mobility. See reference 3. Mayer. Iain Borden. Routledge. Traffic Engineering and Control. Green Places.References Charles Landry Further suggested reading: Beck. Page 9: Exchange Square. London. 3.uk/~jadams/PDFs/ Evaluating%20safety%20measures. 14. Nick Turner. Rotterdam. Page 27: Schouwburgplein.uk Print Printed by Ernest Bond Printing Ltd to ISO 14001 environmental standards on Revive Uncoated paper (80 per cent recycled content). space and the city: architecture and the body. Architectural Design. Adriaan Geuze. Page 25: Pocket park. (2003) Transport Statistics for Great Britain 2003. Furedi. English Heritage/Save our Streets. 22 December 2003. London. Matthew Worland. Designers: Adriaan Geuze and West 8. Page 39:Marble Arch. Page 40: Road junction. Amsterdam. Julia. Policy Studies Institute.ac. Hilman. Andrew Hendry. (1993) Risk: a sociological theory. Page 28: Schouwburgplein.geog. (Eds) special profile no. Gloucestershire. June 1998. Designers: Adriaan Geuze and West 8. Borden. de Gruyter. 2 September 2004. Designer: Thomas Heatherwick. 4. (1992) The risk society: towards a new modernity. Manchester. 26 August 2004. 151. English Heritage/Save our Streets. ‘Common Place’ exhibition. Polity Press. Leeds. 11. Berg. Local Transport Today. (2001) Skateboarding. Injury Prevention 2003. London. Furedi. (2004) ‘Darling. Page 36: Kew Bridge. safer walking and bicycling’.spiked-online. Department for Transport. (1991) Modernity and self identity: self and society in a modern age. New York. Adams. Local Government Chronicle. June. Oxford. pp36-43. John Adams 1. Vol. Iain. 8. The Times. Designers: Adriaan Geuze and West 8. Photography Front cover: Thanks to Parkour for providing the inspiration. Bristol. Iain Borden. (2003) ‘Safety in numbers: more walkers and bicyclists. Adams. Hamilton-Baillie. I. Rotterdam. Ben. Issue 06. (2004) Therapy culture: cultivating vulnerability in an uncertain age.unit-design.ucl. Page 17: Windmill Hill.pdf] 5. London. Iain Borden 1. [Available online at www. Borden. June 2001. 44 .htm] Acknowledgments Design Unit www.co. (2004) Transport White Paper 2004. Department for Transport. Bedminster.ucl. Page 32: Carrascoplein Shadow Park. 3. L. (2001) ‘Connections could be made there’ in The New Babylonians. [Available online at www. Cassell. Adams. 7.ac. Spiked. meet the 800-pound gorilla!’. John. and McCreery. 12. The Lighthouse. pp20-23. Page 21:Bluewater Shopping Centre.
and his subsequent commentaries in the press and on radio and television established him as an influential voice in debates about transport policy. his wideranging historical and theoretical interests have led to publications on. An architectural historian and urban commentator. She lives in London. His second book. His first book. He has worked in over 30 countries advising city and cultural leaders on how to develop their cities in imaginative ways. UK. Risk (1995). body spaces and the experience of space. Her books on depression. She writes frequently for national UK newspapers and magazines and makes regular appearances on TV and radio. He is the author of The creative city: a toolkit for urban innovators (2000). but spends a considerable amount of time every year travelling and teaching. have radically altered thinking about risk management both on and off the road. and Riding the rapids: urban life in an age of complexity (2004). John Adams John Adams is Emeritus Professor in Geography at University College London.Charles Landry Charles Landry is the founder director of Comedia. among other subjects. where he is Professor of Architecture and Urban Culture. gender and architecture. and Renaissance urban space. 45 . Risk and freedom: the record of road safety regulation (1985) and his third book. Iain Borden Iain Borden is Director of the Bartlett School of Architecture. boundaries and surveillance. the history of skateboarding as an urban practice. Transport planning: vision and practice. Culture at the crossroads: culture and cultural institutions at the beginning of the 21st century (2001). University College London. Dorothy Rowe Dr Dorothy Rowe is one of the world’s leading psychologists and authors. life and happiness such as Beyond fear (1987) and The successful self (1988) are published around the world and read by millions.
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