Balancing safety and security with accessibility and openness is critical to the revitalization of urban places. The key to that balance is human presence. Nothing deters crime like having pairs of eyes present to surveil the space. Creating a space, which is easily surveilled by neighbors, patrons, or passersby, is also much cheaper than hiring security guards, putting up fences and gates, and installing security cameras.
A great example is a park, which abuts the townhomes where I live. The park is owned by Salt Lake City and has a very odd shape—70 feet by 1,170 feet—due to the buried storm conduit that lies beneath it. The park’s history is just as odd. Over a third of it has been leased to my townhomes, so that the developer could add open space to the project and increase the number of townhomes. Another third is leased to the HOA to the north for the same purpose. The remaining third to the south is an actual public park maintained by the city.
The park creates more problems than it solves and is more of a disbenefit to the community than a benefit. Using the “seven qualities of safe spaces” [chapter 21] from the Charter of the New Urbanism, I will critique the park:
1. Human Presence
In its current configuration, the park does little to draw people to it. Due to the lack of people, neighbors and visitors feel unsafe parking their cars in our large parking lot that abuts the park. Few windows have a good view of the park. Neighbors are often uneasy about those who do frequent the park and feel that they are “up to no good.”
The large blank walls give park patrons more of a feeling of being in a prison recreation yard than of being in a community park.
3. Humane Protection
Once again the 6-foot high cinderblock walls give patrons more of a feeling of a necessity for security than of security. Due to being bisected by walls, it is difficult for police to walk throughout the entirety of the park. When there is a need for a police presence and they approach in their patrol cars, those causing the reason to call the police quickly jump over the walls and disappear.
4. Visibility, light, and openness
The walls bisecting the park make it impossible to view the entire park at any one point. The walls also limit the ability of passersby to surveil the park. The lighting is poorly designed and poorly maintained. The design deficiency causes large shadows, and the lack of proper maintenance of both bulbs and timers means that the park is often dark at night.
In the city-managed portion of the park, there is at least a sign stating that it is a public park. In the portion leased by my townhomes, the only signs are to warn trespassers of the possibility of prosecution. The portion leased by the HOA to the north is unmaintained except for the seasonal mowing of weeds and cleaning up of trash.
The walls create a lack of connections to the three sections of the park and limit connections to neighboring properties. In this portion of the neighborhood between 700 North on the north and 400 North on the south there is a lack of east-west connections between Redwood Road and the residences to the west.
The role the park plays in Salt Lake City is unreadable. The park does more to divide the neighborhood than to connect it. The park is detrimental to the city.
Fortunately Salt Lake City has hired the firm of Logan Simpson Design to conduct a study of and formulate a plan for the park. The city and the firm held a public meeting to gather input. For the most part, citizens embraced the effort to improve this detriment to our neighborhood. It was evident that the park is ripe for improvement. However, it will likely take some effort to convince some neighbors that tearing down the walls will actually increase safety and security.
In conclusion, the proper design of public spaces that promote safety and security and balance accessibility and openness is vital to the principles of New Urbanism. A well-designed public space will contribute to the value of the surrounding neighborhood and cost less to maintain and police.