Ensuring crowded places protection

Crowd density and overcrowding
There are social, convenience, economic and environmental benefits to living in places of higher density, which makes designing public/crowded spaces all the more important to get right. Designers and architects are advised to: keep it simple; make it accessible for all (in conflict with protection); highlight character; plan for people not cars; use all senses; trust and engage the users or community; and choose the right materials.

Now more than ever, there are pressures to make public spaces increase opportunities for play and physical exercise, to shape the physical, intellectual and emotional development of those living in highly dense communities. We are advised to adhere to statements that advise we must embrace the ‘critical ingredients of liveable cities must be safe, inclusive and accessible’. This is all well and good but who is the body that produces the specifications?  More importantly, if a change or adaption is needed, where do you go to get that approved? You can’t have open freedom for growth as well as security? Can you?

There have been many innovations in understanding how crowds form and move etc. through crowd modelling. They are good models for the design of the environment, with algorithms need to mimic density and movement. However, they have yet to allow for the social psychology of people in crowds and of crowds themselves.

Overcrowding is particularly difficult during emergency response to both manage the crowd and allow access for the emergency services to respond. Some complex environments, such as a public spaces, may have numerous stakeholders. These include the users, the owners of property, organisation’s working in the property, transport hubs etc. It is a community within a community.  We need to work with these communities to understand the use of the spaces around them, as well as identify possible emergencies and their response to these situations.

It is now noted that a high quality public environment can have a significant impact on the economic development of that community. Towns increasingly compete to attract investment, and public spaces are a vital marketing opportunity to obtain that business. CABE research showed that 85 per cent felt that the quality of public spaces and built environment has a direct impact on their lives and on the way they feel. To ensure that quality, we must, therefore, consider the multiple implications and impacts of the planning design and management of the space. Considerations must be made for: physical and mental health; benefits for children and young people; reducing crime and fear of crime; social dimension to the spaces; movement between spaces; and value of biodiversity and nature. These are important issues in design, but what happens when this gets changed?

Changes
In his article Beyond Bollards, Jon Coaffee, stated: “Terrorists have significantly changed their modus operandi in the new millennium…consequently, traditional counter terrorism approaches – the construction of defensive cordons to protect valuable and vulnerable assets – are seen as largely inadequate.

“Experience tells us that once permitted hyper security tends to become permanent. If we want a humane and accessible public realm and genuinely open society, we should not let the exceptional become the norm as we seek more adaptable and effective ways of coping, in a calm and measured way, with urban terrorism.”

The NaCTSO Crowded Places Guidance supports ‘not creating a ‘fortress mentality’. There are many stories from town centre managers, retail industry and events supporting this statement of Jon’s. One such experience was an irate town centre manager who found concrete bollards had been placed around the space he managed, without any consultation or consideration to other matters. He pointed out that the bollards had not only been placed inappropriately but were also not fixed, so were of no actual practical use. His issue was not with the supposed protection they would provide, as the space needed to be safe and secure. However, he also needed it to attract footfall, increase economy, encourage people to visit the town and be aesthetical pleasing. His exact words were ‘a nice flower bed would have the same effect as a bollard!’ His point is well made and highlights what could have been achieved through balancing the needs of all issues, rather than just one.

Attention has been drawn to crowded places for various reasons we have identified, and possibly some we haven’t. Everyone is significant in their own right. All agree that design whilst ensuring safety and security are extremely important. However, these are often at odds with accessibility and the sensation of openness and freedom. Protection is important but it is not the only element, as many already have safety and security features. It can be a complex formula to ensure all these elements are understood and balanced to find the right mixture to produce an outcome which is satisfying to all matters of a truly inclusive, yet protected, open space.

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