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Communities can benefit from access to shared spaces. Shared community spaces like parks and recreation centers foster the development of strong social networks and important community values like participation, reciprocity, mutual respect, and civic engagement. They’re spaces where people gather to socialize and engage in shared interests or activities.
Community members use common spaces in the pursuit of various goals and activities. People use parks and community centers to stay active, practice self-care, seek respite from their busy lives, and build valuable connections with their neighbors.
Business owners and working professionals also use these shared spaces for networking. Community coworking spaces, for example, create excellent networking opportunities for non-traditional workers such as freelancers, remote employees, and digital entrepreneurs. If you plan on networking in common spaces, try to be relaxed and authentic! Your goal is to meet several people, so be sure to step out of your comfort zone and move around.
Why Safety Matters
Safety is essential to the use and enjoyment of shared common spaces. If people feel unsafe spending time in these spaces, they will be left unused, and the surrounding neighborhood will miss out on all the benefits of bringing community members together. Here are some ways community spaces can be designed—or improved—with safety in mind.
Install Lighting for Safety
Adding lighting to shared spaces is one of the easiest ways to improve safety in your community. Illuminating parking lots, pathways, plazas, and parking garages will help users feel safer at night. Visibility in these spaces is essential for both drivers and pedestrians. Focus on illuminating isolated areas like stairwells and vestibules where people may feel unsafe in the darkness. Not only will good lighting help people see where they’re going, but ensuring ample lighting for parking areas and structures will also deter criminal activity.
Think About Layout
The design and layout of public spaces can also impact perceptions of safety. For example, EVE Environmental Services explains that visibility enhances security for park users. People feel more comfortable in common areas with clear sightlines, various entrances and exits, options between direct and attractive routes, and alternative paths for bypassing threatening areas and entrapment sections. Confusing layouts can deter users from visiting parks and public areas, so make sure paths are intuitive and easily accessible to all users. In parks with existing paths, installing signage and removing obstacles that obstruct sightlines can help users feel comfortable navigating in and around these spaces.
Create Safe Space for Women
Women often feel unsafe in places where men feel safe, especially at night. According to Apolitical, women often experience forms of harassment in public spaces, resulting in almost 60% of women feeling unsafe in urban spaces. When considering the issue of safety in shared community spaces, women must be involved in the conversation. Beyond creating well-lit spaces with good visibility, surveillance and security staffing can help women feel safer accessing common areas on their own.
Common spaces feel safer when they are full of people using them as intended. Isolated places increase the risk of crime, but having many eyes on your community spaces will deter violence, harassment, and vandalism. There are many ways to attract people to shared spaces. For example, creating outdoor areas with accessible lawns, footpaths, commercial facilities, and water features can help attract people to parks and create a sense of community. You can also host community events like classes, shows, and concerts to draw crowds!
Whether you’re walking through a forested green space or a mall parking lot, perceptions that your safety is at risk will likely reduce the likelihood that you’ll use these spaces in the future. Everyone deserves to feel safe in shared public spaces! Advocate for the public spaces in your community and work with officials to improve lighting, visibility, surveillance, layout, and other key factors that will make the public feel safe and secure in your local common areas.