So, what would we consider to be a living street? What gives it life and makes it a vibrant, safe, and sociable place which we all enjoy being about? In this community safety blog, I am going to highlight some of the key features and attributes which can contribute to making our streets alive and safe for everyone in the neighbourhood.
The Covid lockdown has offered us a glimpse into a more greener living environment, there were less motor vehicles and with their decrease in noise and exhaust fumes, we experienced an increase in people and families going out for walks and a similar increase in people travelling by wheels, including bikes, skateboards and scooters. The air was cleaner, the birds chirping much more noticeably, and the grass and undergrowth were left to grow, flourish and bloom without their regular cutting and maintenance. The notion of prioritising pedestrians over cars is seldom a popular approach to designing our streets and shopping areas, people like the convenience of shopping by car and often travelling to shopping centres on the outside of their communities. This however has a negative impact upon the quality of our own streets and in the decrease of local shops catering for local needs and which are often owned and run by local people. The priority when planning and managing our streets always seems to be about how we move cars or motor vehicles about, and marginalised groups are often discriminated against and consequently are excluded from our streets and public places. This effects our older people , those with physical and unseen disabilities and other vulnerable groupings who are discouraged and alienated from walking their streets , going to local shops or hanging about socialising due to the intimidating designs of our streets and the dominance of the motor car. I recently was made aware of the Living Streets Scotland organisation and their Walking connects Project. I learned from them about how our public places often act as barriers to vulnerable groups like those with disabilities and how these so-called public spaces can make individuals and groups feel unsafe. I was made aware of how peoples human rights were being undermined and how they were being discriminated against and in fact how few people actually were aware of how their social spaces were being used to oppress and alienate them.
Our communal spaces can be made safer and less intimidating if we include certain features, for example public seating. This provides a resting spot for those who might not be fully fit due to age or illness. Install benches with some plants and shrubs then we have created a comfortable social area, people will feel safer and they know they can rest and not be harassed and stressed as they go about their daily business. Clearly, we need to ensure that local people are involved with the design of their public spaces and this must be an inclusive process. Those whose needs are currently discriminated against need to be brought into this process as a priority and they will require support and positive encouragement to engage and participate effectively with that design process.
We often think back with nostalgia to when we could safely play football in the street, children were not at risk from motor cars and it was commonplace for people to gather and socialise at street corners. The motor car is here to stay so the main challenge now in making our streets alive and safe is how we manage the tension that exists between cars and people. How do we negotiate a positive outcome from this conflict which could convert our streets back to being the focus of our communities? A solution might be to agree days when cars are not allowed on certain streets and these spaces can then be converted into social and community spaces. This approach has been successfully developed and deployed by the Living Streets Organisation, with their pop up parks and Parklets. This can then be progressed through including mobile sports equipment and possibly a performance area and providing a temporary meeting construction with seats and cover from the weather.
Beyond the pop-up parks and mobile social spaces, we can convert some of our litter and fly tipping hot spots into biodiverse planting areas or redevelop them into edible borders. This is an approach that I would like to develop as part of our Keep Camelon and Tamfourhill Tidy, Clean and Green campaign. This approach would take us beyond the litter picking and clearance of industrial refuse stage and onto making a positive contribution to addressing the climate emergency and provide a relaxed and enjoyable place to sit and socialise with your family and neighbours.
I believe that this approach and these examples are achievable locally, I would acknowledge that they are not a quick remedy to the issues, but they are a sustainable and viable approach. I would welcome your comments and thoughts on these ideas so please leave any opinions or thoughts in the boxes below, or contact myself directly at:
John R Hosie