What are wescaredof? The value of risk in designing public space

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1 What are wescaredof? The value of risk in designing public space

2 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

3 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

4 Risk and the creation of liveable cities Charles Landry

5 " The landscape of risk The evaluation of everything from a perspective of risk is a defining characteristic of contemporary society. Risk is the managerial paradigm and default mechanism that has embedded itself into how companies, community organisations and the public sector operate. Risk is a prism through which any activity is judged. Risk has its experts, consultants, interest groups, specialist literature, an associational structure and lobbying bodies. A risk industry has formalised itself. It is similar to how acute awareness of marketing emerged as a core idea to operate business more than 30 years ago. It subtly encourages us to constrain aspirations, act with overcaution, avoid challenges and be sceptical about innovation. It narrows our world into a defensive shell. The life of a community self-consciously concerned with risk and safety is different from one focused on discovery and exploration. Risk-consciousness is a growth industry: hardly a day passes without some new risk being noted. It is as if risk hovers over individuals like an independent force waiting to strike the unsuspecting citizen. This might concern personal safety, a health scare, school kids playing conkers in a school yard who need to wear goggles, or removing swings from parks through fear of injury. In 1994 Factiva noted 2,037 mentions of the term at risk in UK newspapers; this rose to over 25,000 by The notion of an accident seems to have gone from our understanding. Cleansing the world of accidents means scouring the world for someone to blame. It was just an accident or was it? an advert asks. John Adams notes that bad luck transmutes into culpable negligence with the foresight of risk-taking being reinterpreted, with hindsight, into a consequence of negligence. This drives a tendency never to blame oneself or take responsibility. Instead many litigate, leading to claims of a compensation culture, yet that culture feeds on deeper fears. The media plays an important role in shaping perceptions of risk, creating a climate that disposes us to expect bad outcomes. It plays a dual role. It heightens dangers and then 03

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7 Risk is a prism through which any activity is judged rebukes when responses are too diligent, especially in the public sector. It spectacularises certain issues and even creates panics. Which risk factor emerges within the media or political battlefield can seem arbitrary. The risk of food poisoning, though often highlighted, is far less than the risks caused by sedentary lifestyles encouraged by planning which reduces walkability in our settlements. The opportunity side of risk-taking begins to disappear. There seem to be no more good risks; all risks appear bad. The mood of the times is averting the worst rather than creating the good. Guidelines are drawn up on worst-case scenarios. Consciousness of risk comes in myriad forms. Some have been with us for a long time, such as assessing the financial viability of projects. Others concerned with safety and health are more recent: we are now more conscious of child abuse, bullying, and abuse of the elderly. Some say that what we now call bullying was once known as name-calling or office politics. Public health is another arena of safety-consciousness. There are scares about new epidemics from BSE, to Sars, to Ebola and other crossover viruses between animals and humans. Grabbing most headlines are safety concerns about personal injury and the notion of compensation culture. Undoubtedly a perception exists that the public has a greater tendency to seek redress following an injustice or injury. People look for someone else to blame for their misfortune. The now collapsed claims management companies like The Accident Group (TAG) and Claims Direct fed an enormous number of claims into the system. They left a legacy for those helping people to pursue claims. Lawyers or insurance companies are less prepared to fund claims without high chances of success. Blue Carpet, Newcastle. Claims management companies emerged five years ago after the Woolf Reform scrapped legal aid for personal injury. They gathered masses of claims by advertising on TV and radio, in the press, direct marketing, street canvassing or telesales, with slogans such as No win, no fee or Where there s blame, there s a claim. The Accident Group alone generated 15,000 claims per month and sold them on to solicitors, some of whom have up to 10,000 personal injury claims running, with 05 Risk and the creation of liveable cities

8 dedicated departments acting like production lines to process them. An environment emerges where suing is seen as an entitlement; 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; Occupiers liability say the liability of a housing association or supermarket to provide safe conditions; Road-traffic accidents; 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. The simultaneous rise of the risk and creativity agendas is one of the great paradoxes today Concerns about safety and health in the construction industry have been widespread and involve employers liability. It is widely acknowledged that the industry had to dramatically improve its safety record. There is little criticism of those safety improvements, embodied in the Construction, Design and Management (CDM) regulations, which have created new professions such as planning supervisors. However, the process has affected urban professionals in pursuing innovations. There is a preference to go for tried and tested technology, materials or procedures. Occupiers liability affects the design of buildings and their aesthetic; 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, with everything hinging on the word reasonable. The basis of arguments concerns was it reasonably foreseeable that an accident could occur. The boundaries of foreseeable are continually being tested and stretched. Protecting against road accidents equally affects the look and feel of streets, junctions or interchanges, with a resulting increased clutter of barriers, guard rails and excessive signage and signalling. 06 Risk and the creation of liveable cities

9 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, with Leeds, Cardiff and Liverpool often cited as having good strategies for maintenance guidance and procedures. For example, when claims clusters occur in specific areas, Leeds targets these for special attention. Significantly, 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?. " The paradox of risk and creativity The simultaneous rise of the risk and creativity agendas is one of the great paradoxes today, given that risk-avoidance strategies often cancel out inventiveness. We increasingly demand that citizens, businesses and public institutions be creative, explore and experiment to survive and be competitive in a globalised world. Yet cities need to be inventive to adapt to 21st-century needs. It means reconfiguring cities economic base and physically restructuring them to adapt to the new conditions of service-based industries. Equally there are social issues to confront, from the implications of increased mobility and the growth of multicultural cities, to crime and fear of crime, and pockets of severe disadvantage that often physically lie next to affluence. Thus new agendas are rising to the fore. One is greater awareness of environmental sustainability; another is the creation of more aesthetically satisfying places; a third is the capacity of places to retain and attract the talent that can make them economically successful. Often bold architecture and sensitive urban design play significant roles in this process. People want more from their cities so the quality-of-life and liveability agendas have come to the fore. These highlight walkability, a public realm and associated infrastructure that foster increased interaction between people, and urban settings that allow simultaneously for excitement and reflection. Yet for decades we have adapted the city to the car, and its needs have shaped the look, feel and atmosphere of places. This means challenging how the built environment is put together. The sustainability agenda demands new ways of building and sometimes using novel materials; new architecture 07 Risk and the creation of liveable cities

10 " can push at the boundaries of the tried and tested within construction, and the desire for more walkable places can tip the balance between pedestrians and cars. Achieving these aims involves good risks. They confront the legacy of how things have been managed in the past, yet aligned to a culture of risk-aversion, moving forward becomes doubly difficult. 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. What implications has risk culture for making and shaping liveable cities and how we lead our life as individuals? People who believe they cannot cope will find it difficult to be responsible for their behaviour The pervasiveness of risk-consciousness and aversion comes from deeper anxieties about life. It is part of broader historical forces impacting on our sense of self and how we view the world. 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.this increasing disenchantment targets the Enlightenment s unbounded optimism, the arrogance and overconfidence of science and industrialism, the speed and scope of globalisation, and its unintended effects and unconstrained pollution. In addition there is a fear of out-of-control technology. All this has coincided with the decline of traditional ties that provided values and models for action and readily understandable identities for individuals, be they a religion, an ideology or a fixed community setting. Those value bases anchored people, giving purpose and direction, allowing them to negotiate life s travails. The erosion of tradition and taken-forgranted relationships and responsibilities breaks continuities and establishes uncertainty within which individuals have to assess lifestyle options themselves. The paradox is that the freedom of choice projected as liberation, especially in the commercial world, is then experienced as frightening. When little can be taken for granted like ties of family, ideology, community or other forms of solidarity it is difficult to know which information to trust and what to predict. This loosening of ties feels like swimming in the rapids with free-floating anxieties. 08 Risk and the creation of liveable cities

11 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. Within this setting trust in oneself and others erodes. Everything is uncertain. Francis Fukuyama defines trust as the expectation that arises within a community of regular, honest and co-operative behaviour, based on commonly shared norms, on the part of other members of the community. An absence of trust in humanity shapes our perception of risk. It is a symptom of the cleavages that have made us fearful and risk-aware. Misfortune cannot be blamed on acts of God so the blame must lie elsewhere. Exchange Square, Manchester. Risk-consciousness rises when conditions of uncertainty and the perception of powerlessness increase. Unable to control pressing issues from environmental degradation to crime, health hazards, or the imbalances created by globalisation, it mirrors the scenario of technology out-of-control. The system is to blame for what is wrong. This affects public perceptions 09 Risk and the creation of liveable cities

12 There is a merry-goround and pass-theparcel on risk and the emotional frame which guides perceptions independent of the reality of risk, so overwhelming objective risk calculations. The sense of powerlessness, vulnerability and impotence begins to shape self-identity. The responsible individual as potential maker, shaper and creator of the environment becomes a passive individual always on the receiving end. 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, alertness and self-responsibility lose sway, and by making claims we assert our authority and identity. " How responsibility and accountability are defined is determined by social and political norms. If we focus on the fragility of people, this shapes our norms of accountability. People who believe they cannot cope will find it difficult to be responsible for their behaviour. Blame is credited to an external force and the sense of responsibility is distanced from ourselves. It legitimates the growth of litigation and shifts individualism defined as self-sufficiency and personal responsibility to a rights-oriented individualism. As Frank Furedi noted, the expansion of the right to compensation is proportional to the shrinking of individual autonomy. Ironically this raises a further paradox, 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. The capacity to absorb the speed of change is difficult, which is why the notion of the precautionary principle has gained currency. That principle suggests we are not merely concerned about risk but are also suspicious of finding solutions. It is best not to take a new risk unless all outcomes can be understood in advance. Judgement remains the key in deciding where to act with caution and where to give leeway for experiment. How we create the urban form How does the risk environment affect the urban professions? From engineers, to architects, land use planners, project managers, valuers, quantity surveyors, estate agents and property developers, risk moves to the centre of their work and increased resources are spent on risk assessment. This ranges from employing people with legal experience or risk assessors 10 Risk and the creation of liveable cities

13 as part of instituting new management procedures to the increased costs of insurance cover for all professions beyond the level of inflation. Whilst it can sharpen up practices, the palette of possibilities is shrinking, so constraining their capacity to innovate and provide certain design features. The increased risk process tends to focus on managing the downside rather than considering potential. Indeed, those in the new planning supervisory and safetyauditing roles have a vested interest in a climate of risk since it justifies their existence, and at the same time are predisposed to reduce risks. In addition, the fragmentation of the industry with the growth in intermediaries such as project managers tends to further increase risk aversion. In this world of multiple contracting and intermediaries there is a merry-go-round and pass-the-parcel on risk, with everyone seeking to export their risk to someone else. In this process the broader goals and long-term perspectives of urban design can get lost. 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. This ranges from encouraging public transport to providing walkable urban settings or cycling-friendly environments. The biggest risk is not to take risks if we want to avoid creating depressing cities, 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. The following articles explore these distinct aspects of our risk conundrum: the individual s perspective on taking risks in their environment; the diversity of an environment able to provide those risks and opportunities; and finally, the risks in conflict between users of our urban areas motorists and pedestrians. 11 Risk and the creation of liveable cities

14 The assessment of risk is a very personal affair Dorothy Rowe

15 The trouble with people is that they ruin the theories and the best-laid plans of experts. People will persist in seeing everything in their own individual ways. Of course they cannot help but do that because the way we each interpret whatever we encounter comes out of our past experience and, since no two people ever have exactly the same experience, no two people ever interpret anything in exactly the same way. Thus, no matter how wisely and imaginatively designers and architects create a public space, each person who encounters that space will interpret it differently and consequently use it differently. 1 Deploring the stupidity and lack of consideration for others that some people display in public spaces achieves nothing. 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. If you want to know what people will do and why, ask them and, if they trust you, they will tell you. This is the only way to arrive at compromises on which everyone can agree. 1 The landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson, who designed the Diana Memorial Fountain, said in an interview in The Guardian, 12 October 2004, I feel we made a mistake in letting people walk in the water. I apologise for that. I thought people would picnic near the memorial, and run their hands through the water, think about their lives, think about Diana. 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, nor did she expect that rubbish would be thrown in. 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. 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. Early in the 20th century the French psychologist Binet observed that some children behaved more intelligently than others. 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, intelligence. They assumed that intelligence was the name of some real thing which they could measure. 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. People behave intelligently in many different ways, and just how intelligent this behaviour may be varies with how each person interprets each situation he encounters. 13

16 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, risk is not a thing nor is it an attribute of design or of public spaces. The mathematical probability of an event occurring can be calculated, but individuals then decide what that probability means to them. 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. When we make decisions about our own personal safety it is not just our physical safety we consider. We all need to survive in two ways. We need to survive physically, as a body, and we need to survive as the person we know ourselves to be. 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. Forced to choose between dying knowing that our life had significance and integrity or living on feeling that we are a nothing, despised and ignored, we choose to die. This is the thinking behind acts of great heroism and of suicide. We interpret the probability of an adverse event in terms of surviving as a person. The aviation industry spends millions in advertising the pleasures and rewards of flying, thus indirectly reassuring people that flying is a safe way to travel, yet many people refuse to fly or suffer agonies of terror if forced to step into a plane. 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. The feeling of being utterly helpless threatens to annihilate us as a person, and so we will behave in ways that other people see as illogical in order to avoid feeling helpless. " The fear of being helpless Most of us can remember that, whether our home was happy or unhappy, as children we needed time away from adults. We needed places where we could run, explore, play with our friends or be on our own to look and wonder, think and daydream, and make amazing discoveries. Yet increasingly many parents do not let their children play in public spaces no matter how physically safe the space may be. 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. An irresponsible media feeds such fears by not telling the truth about paedophiles. Statistics show that by far the majority of sexual assaults on children are made by men whom the child calls daddy, granddad, step-dad or my big 14 The assessment of risk is a very personal affair

17 brother. Nevertheless, many parents prefer not to acknowledge this, or feel that they can control what goes on in their home but are helpless to protect their child against the stranger. Many of the people who use public spaces perceive themselves as being helpless in the hands of the government, the council, and anyone who may have power. They say they never vote because their vote would make no difference; they fail to get good care from the NHS because I don t want to trouble the doctor ; they are unaware that all professional bodies and government departments have well-worked-out procedures for complaint, or, if they are aware of these procedures, are sure that if they complained they would be rebuffed and ignored; they take pride in looking after themselves rather than risk being patronised by someone who has deigned to offer them help. 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 something goes wrong they complain and expect it to be put right. 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. 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. For us to do this without being reduced to a state of terrified helplessness we have to feel that, first, we have chosen to hand over control rather than having it taken from us, and second, that we can trust the person or institution which has taken control. 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. " Control and company Another abstract noun which psychologists have turned into a fictional thing is personality. They have used questionnaires that through statistical wizardry have produced clusters of correlations which psychologists have called traits, or types, or factors. Whatever the questionnaire or the statistics used, one particular cluster of correlations always appears, a cluster which psychologists call extraversion, with its opposite introversion. Psychoanalysis produced something similar. 15 The assessment of risk is a very personal affair

18 Jung divided people into what he called extraverts and introverts, Freud called them hysterics and obsessionals. In examining the reasons that people give to explain why they do what they do I have found that, while we all fear losing control of everything and falling into chaos and we all fear being left absolutely alone, abandoned and rejected, for each of us one of these two fates seems to be far worse than the other. The fear of chaos or the fear of abandonment plays a part in every interpretation we create As a result, 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, while people who fear abandonment are likely to prefer a space which is full of things that assure them they are not alone. The fear of chaos or the fear of abandonment plays a part in every interpretation we create. We are not always aware of this, with the result that we can assess the safety of a public space without consciously recognising that it awakens our greatest fear. Similarly, as introverts we are more likely to trust someone we see as well organised and with a plan of which we approve, whereas as extraverts we are more likely to trust someone we see as likeable and as liking us. " 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. However, paranoia has a purpose. It assures the person that he is significant. The great benefit of paranoia is that it means someone somewhere is thinking of you. 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. They may lack family and friends or, even if they have family and friends, may find that these people are totally wrapped up in themselves and never spare them a thought. Older people, for example, can feel helpless in a society which ignores them. Rather than feel helpless they may prefer to think that muggers and burglars are thinking of them. Then they have a legitimate excuse to complain that the government is not thinking about them. This is why the perception of the amount of crime committed always exceeds the amount actually committed. 16 The assessment of risk is a very personal affair

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20 " 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. All religions teach this, though religions differ in how they define good and bad, reward and punishment. 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. The belief in the Just World not only satisfies our sense of justice, it also allows us to believe that we can keep ourselves and our loved ones safe by being good. Thus we are not helpless. In the Middle Ages people saw God, Heaven and Hell as the means of balancing the scales of justice, but as belief in these three powers waned people started to look to this world as the place where justice is obtained. 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. 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. But chance does not exist in a Just World. people started to look to this world as the place where justice is obtained 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. The why question is the theological or philosophical question, 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, Why? There are only three possible answers to this question, namely It was my fault, It was someone else s fault, It happened by chance. However, in the Just World nothing happens by chance. The choice becomes It was my fault or It was someone else s fault. People who blame themselves for a disaster are likely to become depressed. People who blame others may become angry or paranoid, believing that they have been unfairly punished by some Power which is determined to destroy them, 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. 18 The assessment of risk is a very personal affair

21 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. They do not want to recognise that they are adults responsible for themselves in a world which is indifferent to their existence. They want to remain as children looked after by their parents, or God the Father, or by the government and by professional and business institutions. 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. " What s to be done? Everyone wants to be free and everyone wants to be secure. However, the more security we have, the less freedom, and the more freedom we have, the less security. 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. 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. There is a balance between order and chaos which both introverts and extraverts find acceptable, a point at which no one feels unduly constrained or unduly exposed to danger. 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. There needs to be an on-going public debate about how we perceive chance and responsibility. At present the mechanisms for public discussion are unsatisfactory because most people feel that they are excluded from the debate. Public debates seem to be confined to the articulate and the educated, while the need for order and rulefollowing stifles originality and passion. Consequently many people continue to feel helpless, without any say in what happens to them. Yet it is only through debate that we can reach those compromises that we can all regard as satisfactory. 19 The assessment of risk is a very personal affair

22 Stimulating the senses in the public realm Iain Borden

23 One of the main tendencies in public space has been to minimise risk providing mini-cities in which risk has been all but removed. These are places of safety and certainty. However, much of the joy of public spaces comes from their surprising qualities, from not always knowing them or the people they contain. Here, the tendency is to encourage risk, to create places of uncertainty. This, then, is an essential tension in public space whether to remove risk, and so erase danger, or to tolerate or even encourage risk, and so enjoy the unexpectedness of our cities and fellow citizens. The internalised and predictable world of the shopping mall Predominant among spaces that tend to remove risk are shopping malls, particularly large ones, which increasingly provide myriad fashion shops and other retail outlets, ample parking for all, as well as such facilities as multi-screen cinemas, food courts, and even rock-climbing walls or tennis courts. They offer architecture of an apparently high quality, blending wide concourses, historical styles, large sculptures, variegated colours and playful light. This, many contend, is what public space should be contented, pain-free consumerism where there is always a place to sit down, a drink to be quaffed, a toilet to be found and a new product to be purchased. Such public realms are a Utopia, places where there are no homeless people, wailing sirens or speeding couriers. Yet while malls are perhaps ideal places to shop, are they really good public space? For they offer few of the qualities of real cities, none of the vitality and downright unpredictability of the full-on urban experience. Rather, as internalised, controlled and sterile arenas cleared of all litter and undesirable people malls suggest that we are only citizens in so far as we consume. Malls insist that we know what we want and that we do not want to be truly surprised. Furthermore, we now have museums, galleries, 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. 21

24 So there are indeed risks here the risks of losing sight of what a vital civic arena could be. The risk of the city-as-shoppingmall is that public space becomes only for consumerism, that our bodies become passive, that we consume only by purchasing, and that political rights and critical thoughts are replaced by docile and accepting minds. " Playing with risk How then might our public spaces be different? Firstly, we should realise that space is produced by all of us. In short, we all make the public realm and the public realm makes us. Secondly, it is not only the activities of shopping, walking, sitting and looking that make up public spaces. Everything we do helps make the public realm, from commuting and driving to using our senses of touch, smell and hearing, to emotional experiences like talking, making music and falling in love. Thirdly, different people have different ways of using public space the elderly may think about the public realm differently from those who are younger, or there may be a feeling that White British cultural spaces are at variance with Asian British cultural spaces. Fourthly, we can also delight in being different within ourselves, so that each of us might be at once a photographer and a scaffolder, old and young we can take risks with ourselves, with how we create public spaces at various times, attitudes and stages in our lives. 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. They can do this through simple economic activities such as boot-sales and church fairs, or through artistic acts like busking and street performances, or guerilla-like tactics of war-chalking (marking walls with chalk to indicate the presence of wireless internet links). In short, if children can play, 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

25 we can take risks with ourselves, with how we create public spaces at various times, attitudes and stages in our lives public realm, who has the right to use it, and with what kind of actions and attitudes? 1 Skateboarders focus their activities on city streets, office plazas and myriad semi-public spaces such as staircases, park benches, window ledges and shop forecourts. Disaffected both by the harshness of city streets and by the glossy displays of shopping malls, skateboarders have transformed these territories into their own play space. This is a very different kind of experience of the city to that of, for example, shopping, driving, walking or looking. The skateboarder s own body becomes alert with touch, hearing, adrenalin and balance. Here then, 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, multi-sensory, adaptable and alive. Most importantly, these appropriated skateboarding places are often public. As a result, embedded in skateboarding s actions are not only transformations of dull space into stimulating arenas of activity, but also implicit critiques of what public space should be. For example, skateboarding suggests that architecture can be micro-spaces and not just grand monuments, that we can produce not only things and objects but also desires and energies, that public space is for uses rather than exchange, that one should use the public realm regardless of who one is or what one owns, and that the way we use public space is an essential factor in who we are. Now, there are risks associated with activities like skateboarding, including bodily harm to practitioners and other city dwellers, the perceived threats posed to conventional modes of behaviour, the physical damage skateboarders might cause to the built environment, the noises they make, and the general anti-work, anti-consumerism attitude which they often seem to promote. Yet the actual damage caused by skateboarding is overstated very little damage occurs to benches and ledges, particularly if they are designed to withstand skateboarding rather than to repel 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

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27 Pocket park, New York does happen, but compared to, for instance, the thousands of pedestrians killed by motorised traffic, as well as all the other problems created by cars (see John Adams article for some sobering thoughts on this matter), this is not an insuperable problem. There are enormous benefits from encouraging activities such as skateboarding within particular public contexts. For example, skateboarding encourages active young people who are not watching television, but who are outside, in the fresh air. By taking the risk of skateboarding in public, skateboarders can do something physical and independent, which lets them meet other people, and which can even be entrepreneurial (for example, skateboarders often set up professional teams, clothing companies and video production facilities). And so by us taking the risk of allowing skateboarding to occur, and by skateboarders themselves taking the risk of moving in this way, we can have cities in which these citizens 25 Stimulating the senses in the public realm

28 If we are prepared to take the risk, these are our rewards: the unpredicted, the alternative, surprising ways of living in cities are more healthy, more fit, more open to real urban spaces than are, for example, many television-fixated and computerobsessed teenagers. And even for those who do not skateboard there are also benefits. We get healthy, non-lager-lout, independent-minded fellow citizens; we get something vibrant to look at besides shop windows; we get strange sounds and colours in our streets; and, above all, we get something different, which we might not have expected to come across. If we are prepared to take the risk, these are our rewards: the unpredicted, the alternative, surprising ways of living in cities. " Designing for risk But how can we design or manage our public spaces to allow for such risks? On the one hand, 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, industrial buildings turned into bars and restaurants, town halls, and Ferris wheels. But we need to be careful. 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, sculpture, music, theatre, galleries, grand public squares. Here, while there is often the occasional nod to everyday life and even the appropriation of space, a certain model of polite society permeates through. Such public space is, above all, the city of gentle wanderings and spoken conversations. It is the city of latte coffee, big Sunday papers, designer lamps and fresh pasta. It is not, however, the city of the disparate activities that people actually do in cities and this is extremely important, for, as Dorothy Rowe explains, no two people ever have quite the same experience or view on things. This, then, is not the city of shouting, loud music, running, pure contemplation, demonstrations, subterranean subterfuges. It is not the city of intensity, of cab ranks, boot-sales, railway arches or street markets; nor is it the city of monkish seclusion, crystal-clear intellectualism or ephemeral art interventions. By contrast, in the Netherlands, Adriaan Geuze and West 8 have created a series of provocative public spaces. 2 The 26 Stimulating the senses in the public realm

29 Schouwburgplein, Rotterdam Carrascoplein Shadow Park, placed below some elevated railway tracks on the outskirts of Amsterdam, 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. At night, the latter glow and cast shadows over the concrete columns and undersides of the overhead bridges. The effect is at once calm and unsettling, at times empty and eminently ignorable (especially during the day), and at others (particularly after nightfall), ambient, moody and almost unsettling in the way that light, shadows and colour flicker across the site. Although this might now appear to be a successful artistic intervention, it was not an easy park to create. 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. They were also concerned that the peripheral location of the park might mean that it was invisible to all but local residents. 27 Stimulating the senses in the public realm

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31 However, they consciously took the risk that these qualities could be manipulated into something new, 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, the Carrascoplein Shadow Park has been welcomed by local pedestrians, many of whom now feel much more willing to traverse the space, as well as by those seeking an alternative urban experience in this case, a dance of light and shadows. 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 risk of doing something quite strange in an out-ofthe-way location has been repaid by improvements in the quality of the place... More monumental is the Schouwburgplein in Rotterdam, a large square divided into different surface textures such as perforated and box-section steel, timber and rubber. This composition encourages different activities, such as football on the timber, rollerblading on the epoxy and, of course, the general walking that criss-crosses wherever people wish, but particularly along a long rubber strip. Overhead, spotlights on giant crane-like anglepoises respond either to coins inserted by members of the public, or to a pre-programmed random sequence in this way the spotlights spasmodically energise the square, creating another layer of light and colour. Those using the Schouwburgplein thus do what they wish, their actions being at once subtly encouraged, highlighted, guided and flexibly accommodated. The park is a kind of informal game, a playground for movements and experiences of all kinds. Here the designers have again taken a risk, but a different one to that at the Carrascoplein Shadow Park. At the Schouwburgplein, the design itself was well understood from the start, and the risk has been in letting those who use the space do with it, within certain constraints, as they wish. The designers have created a multi-purpose board game in which we as urban citizens are the pieces on the board, free to make up our own rules and actions. Schouwburgplein, Rotterdam If the risk of the Carrascoplein Shadow Park was being able to control the character of the park, and the risk of the Schouwburgplein is in letting users act in uncertain ways, then another way of taking risks in the public realm is in the very process by which it is created that is, by taking risks with who is involved and what they want. In this context, it is instructive 29 Stimulating the senses in the public realm

32 The designers have created a multi-purpose board game in which we as urban citizens are the pieces on the board, free to make up our own rules and actions to consider Royston Road Parks in Glasgow, an initiative far less monumental or artful in appearance than the Dutch projects already described. This was not an easy area in which to operate, 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, more importantly, it is also a place where there are pressing social issues that need to be addressed urgently. In particular, Royston Road passes through priority areas for every social funding strand from the regeneration of housing to alcohol and drug rehab. Risk here, then, is about creating public realms which are not simply agreeable or stimulating, but which are also involved with community and local concerns. In order to address these issues, the constructed scheme has not just preserved a local landmark known as the Spire but has also brought training and employment to the area. The idea here has been to involve the arts in real community development, creating the Parks using a local workforce and six artist residencies hosted by local groups, operating collaboratively with landscape architects Loci and artists Graham Fagen and Toby Paterson (incidentally, a noted skateboarder). Such a process can never be quick, and to bring the community along with the project, many meetings, consultations, workshops and public displays of proposals were undertaken. At each stage, the risk was always that the very local community which Royston Road Parks was intended to benefit might become alienated from the project. In the end, despite several contentious debates and heated moments, the project has emerged as a highly beneficial public realm, one where people can sit, walk, skateboard, cycle, cogitate and converse. The result of risking the commissioning and designing process has been a series of zones of safety and play, created by such entities as a church spire, a burn of water, and intense local activity. Emphasised on this site is the immediate, the bond of people and their common effort. In particular it shows that the process of creation of public space can often be as important as the final product itself Stimulating the senses in the public realm

33 " Difference and risk Where then does this leave our understanding of the public realm and risk? Above all, we must realise that new kinds of public realm can be designed not just to make us more efficient consumers, but to encourage us to be healthy physically, mentally and artistically these are public spaces which stimulate our actions, feelings and attitudes to the world. Using design to stimulate people but without trying to wholly determine their actions means that we take risks with our fellow citizens, accepting that we should let the public realm not only reflect but encourage the full range of positive human actions and qualities. There are of course different kinds of risk involved in creating these kinds of public space. On the negative side, there is the possibility that the public spaces might be dangerous and become centres of drug-taking or mugging. Alternatively, such spaces, particularly the more artistic ones, might be misunderstood by the public, and be castigated as a waste of money. They might soak up economic and other resources, and worse still, might not be used at all. We need a city that we do not know, that we do not understand, that we have not yet encountered, that is simultaneously strange, familiar and unknown to us On the other hand, there are also huge positive benefits to be gained, risks that pay off massively in terms of culture, community involvement and even economics. In this way, we can have public spaces that are different to the shopping mall, museum or urban plaza; they create new uses by members of the public, and new understandings of what the city might be all about; they involve the community and help bring in new skills and work; and they can yield results long after they were first constructed. Above all, then, we must realise that public space space that is truly public acknowledges four kinds of difference. These differences are all about risk-taking, about allowing for the uncertain, unpredictable and not-wholly-programmed to occur. The first of these differences means accepting that people of different backgrounds, races, ages, classes, sexuality, gender and general interests all have different ideas of what public space is, and that they make their own places to foster their own identities. This difference requires the risk of recognising 31 Stimulating the senses in the public realm

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35 that we are not all the same, even that we ourselves might not be quite who we think we are. The second kind of difference is physical, visual and designed, and means realising that public spaces should not all look the same. Beyond the piazza and avenue, cities need hidden spaces and exposed spaces, rough spaces and smooth spaces, loud spaces and silent spaces spaces where people remember, experience, contest, appropriate, get scared, make things, lose things, and generally become themselves. 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. The third kind of difference is about times, about allowing for certain parts of the city to be used differently at various times of the day, week or year. We need times that are slow and times that are fast, times given to us by our bodies and times controlled by machines. This means allowing people to go faster on pavements than the speed of the slowest pedestrian, or to hang around in parks. It means letting skateboarders use office plazas on the weekend; it means taking the risk of allowing people to do things outside of the conventional time patterns of the daily sleep-work-rest cycle, or the weekly and annual work-weekend-work-holiday. It means letting people remember private thoughts as well as national events, responding to local actions and not just global trends. Carrascoplein Shadow Park, Amsterdam And the fourth kind of difference is the experience we have of spaces, the way in which we approach our cities and architecture. We need spaces in which we encounter otherness and sameness, where we are at once confirmed and challenged and this comes from not being certain, from not knowing everything around us, from a degree of surprise and the unusual as we go about our everyday lives. We need a city that we do not know, that we do not understand, that we have not yet encountered, that is simultaneously, strange, familiar and unknown to us. This is public space which is always a surprise, a unique place, a stimulation. This difference requires the risk of not always knowing what lies around the corner. 33 Stimulating the senses in the public realm

36 Streets and the culture of risk aversion John Adams

37 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. While some would argue that this is down to poor design or maintenance, these unwelcoming streets are just symptoms of a bigger problem. The root cause is the enormous growth in traffic since the Second World War and the deference shown towards motor vehicles. The street life of our towns and cities has been damaged by this deference manifesting itself in two complementary ways. Transport planners and engineers have accorded the motorist priority over other road users, and in parallel other, more vulnerable, road users have retreated before the threat posed by the increase in traffic. As the number of vehicles grows, balancing the risks to different street users becomes increasingly difficult. The room for manoeuvre is literally getting less. Fundamentally there is a difference in the way those designing and those using our streets perceive the road. " 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. This has resulted in a streetscape dominated by features designed for the safety and convenience of people moving at 30 miles per hour, and for the provision of somewhere convenient to park when they reach their destinations. In contrast, people moving at three miles per hour view the world at a higher level of resolution than those moving ten times faster. The fine detail that can be appreciated at walking speeds is invisible to the motorist. In any event, 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; Synchronising traffic lights, and organising other priority measures to ensure maximum flow; Providing signage and other road markings that can be read at speed; Planning for ever more crashworthy vehicles; Making roads more forgiving of careless driving. And where engineers and safety organisations like the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents have been concerned 35

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39 Kew Bridge, London about the safety of those not in cars, they have favoured measures that promote increased deference to the car, in the form of: Preventing pedestrians from straying into the paths of cars by forcing them to use inconvenient footbridges or foul-smelling tunnels, or channelling them through cattle pens, often requiring a wait in the middle of the road; Advertising campaigns warning pedestrians and cyclists of the danger of traffic, and encouraging parents to keep young children on reins; Road-safety education in schools that preaches deference to traffic. The consequences of policies, applied over many decades, that have privileged cars and the people in them above local public transport, cyclists and people on foot, have been profound. The use of local public-transport services has declined by more than 50 per cent in the past 50 years. 1 Cycling and walking have declined by at least as much, 2 only partly because former cyclists and pedestrians have switched to cars. As the amount of metal in motion has increased, those with softer, more vulnerable shells have retreated before the threat. The clearest, best-documented demonstration of this effect relates to children. In 1971, 80 per cent of seven- and eight-year-old children went to school on their own, unaccompanied by an adult. 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. This policy has evolved partly as a response to parental fears, and partly as a response to schools fears of legal liability should one of their charges come to harm. 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 surveys have never recorded the walking involved in the on-street recreational activities of children. The fear of harm relates not just to the damage that might be inflicted when fast-moving hard metal meets soft flesh, but to a growing fear of strangers. Since 1950 there has been a more than six-fold increase in the distance that the average Briton travels in a day. As we spend more time far from home, we spend less time close to home. As a result fewer of us know our neighbours and we spend more of our waking hours in the presence of strangers. The schools respond with Stranger Danger campaigns, warning children that anyone they don t know might intend them harm inculcating paranoia at a tender age. Adults become more fearful for themselves as well 37 Streets and the culture of risk aversion

40 As the amount of metal in motion has increased, those with softer, more vulnerable shells have retreated before the threat as for their children. As more people take to cars, those left behind on foot, cycle or the local bus feel increasingly isolated in the midst of strangers. Mistrust also afflicts those who plan and maintain our streets. As escalating insurance premiums attest, they are fearful of personal injury claims caused as a result of the state of the street. Both those planning and maintaining the streets and those using them are becoming more risk averse. " Drivers of risk aversion Continuing car growth 4 The root cause of the decline of street quality shows no sign of abating. In 2001 a record number of new motor vehicles were sold in Britain 3,137,700. The following year surpassed this record with 3,229,400, while 2003 produced yet another record 3,231,900. The forecast for 2004, at the time of writing, is a number of a similar size another record or nearly so. The government considers continued growth in vehicle numbers inevitable: Our transport strategy has to recognise that demand for travel will increase in the future. 5 This growth places under enormous pressure those whose jobs require them to manage traffic and parking and the wider environmental consequences. Most of the growth in vehicle numbers has been, and must continue to be, accommodated by suburban sprawl; the on-street car park in older urban areas has been full for some time. 6 The National Audit Office, in its report Tackling Congestion by Making Better Use of England s Motorways and Trunk Roads, takes the government to task for not adopting measures, such as hardshoulder-running, that would accommodate further growth. The focus on technical fixes Industry, supported by government, has targeted the lion s share of resources for transport problems at alternative energy supplies, smarter travel employing telematics to squeeze more capacity out of existing networks, and technological developments that will make cars cleaner and more energy efficient. To the extent that such pursuits are successful, by making motoring faster and cheaper they will encourage more of it. There exists no coherent plan for dealing with the anticipated further growth. Established highway engineering practices Traditionally, the approach to dealing with traffic growth has focused on ways of accommodating it. The pressure on these practices is enormous. 6 In each of the last four years of record 38 Streets and the culture of risk aversion

41 Marble Arch, London motor-vehicle sales, allowing for the scrapping of old vehicles, the nation s vehicle population has increased by more than 800,000. Providing only one parking space for each of these extra vehicles would require a new parking lot, each year, the size of a new motorway from London to Edinburgh nine lanes wide. 7 Most planning consents for new commercial or residential development still require sufficient parking space for the anticipated, growing, numbers of cars. Meanwhile the older urban areas, fearful of losing custom to the suburbs, struggle to squeeze in a few more parking places by encroaching on pavements, the space previously reserved for pedestrians. Safety concerns One result of all these pressures and attempts to cope with them has been the ugly, cluttered urban streetscape highlighted by the recent English Heritage Save Our Streets campaign. The road layouts illustrated and their accompanying signs, signals, barriers and road markings are not the work of any single planner; they are the cumulative result of numbers of unco-ordinated interventions. Typically traffic engineers will have calculated the volume of traffic that must be accommodated. Then highway engineers will have produced a design for getting it through the junction as efficiently as possible. And finally thought will have been given to the needs of pedestrians. The primary justification for almost all the clutter will be safety to prevent motor vehicles from running into pedestrians, or each other. 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. Beyond a certain point, as it accumulates over time, it produces information overload and becomes confusing rather than helpful to those trying to negotiate their way through it. But the main limitation of this approach stems from the assumption by its installers that people will behave like obedient automatons. A brief period of observation of such a junction will confirm that they do not. Pedestrians routinely disregard red lights (in Britain red lights for pedestrians are merely advisory, not mandatory). And they are frequently found on the wrong side 39 Streets and the culture of risk aversion

42 Road junction, Gloucestershire Traditionally, the approach to dealing with traffic growth has focused on ways of accommodating it of the barriers; pedestrians are natural Pythagoreans, preferring the hypotenuse to the other two sides of the triangle wherever possible. 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. 8 In 1922, for example, there were more than three times as many children killed in road accidents than there are today, not because the roads are three times safer to play in today, but because they are seen as so dangerous that children are not allowed out any more. There are countless roads in Britain carrying high volumes of fast traffic that the people living alongside them deem dangerous, and for which they appeal for traffic-calming measures. 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. It usually has a good accident record because it is dangerous; children are forbidden 40 Streets and the culture of risk aversion

43 to cross it, old people are afraid to cross it, and fit adults cross it quickly and carefully. The good accident record is purchased at the cost of community severance. People on one side of the road do not know their neighbours on the other. " Bucking the trend There exist encouraging counter examples to the scenes depicted. Some of the most attractive urban environments to be found in Britain and throughout Europe are those that have been completely pedestrianised. However, the circumstances in which this is feasible are relatively few. The more difficult challenge is to accommodate both people and cars in a more civilised and attractive way. Neal Street and Seven Dials in Covent Garden, London, are successful British examples. They have succeeded in circumstances where the ratio of pedestrians to cars is high. Experiments in Denmark and the Netherlands have been undertaken in more challenging circumstances. By stripping out all road markings, signs and signals, and injecting uncertainty into the encounters between motorists and pedestrians and cyclists, planners have not only removed the clutter that defaces so many British streets, but reduced accidents as well. 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 assume road users are alert to signs of safety and danger and modify their behaviour accordingly. They demonstrate that where the street environment can be reconfigured, without explicit signage, to convey to all participants that no one has an automatic right of way, and that all must look out for, and respect, everybody else, it is possible to create a safer environment without the usual clutter. Clearly this is not a method recommended for helping pedestrians across the M25. The relationship that cars and pedestrians have with each other is critically dependent on relative numbers. On any local high street thronged with shoppers, as pedestrian numbers build up beyond some critical point, they start crossing the road at numerous unapproved places, and traffic slows down and tries to nudge its way through the crowd. As schooling fish trying to avoid 41 Streets and the culture of risk aversion

44 pedestrians are natural Pythagoreans, 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, there is safety in numbers. Another manifestation of this phenomenon is the much lower fatality rate enjoyed by (unhelmeted but much more numerous) Dutch and Danish cyclists. 10 Pedestrians and cyclists react not just to the volume of motorised traffic, but also to its speed. Some heavily trafficked roads in central London with little pedestrian street life became, after the introduction of congestion charging, even more intimidating to vulnerable road users. Without measures to encourage more pedestrian and cycling activity, the reduced flows of traffic go faster. Creating attractive urban environments requires not only the suppression of motorised traffic but also the promotion of street life to take its place. " 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. 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, size and placement of all traffic signs if they are put in place. But what is frequently unclear are the circumstances in which their installation is required by law, is recommended in the form of official guidance or is simply highway engineers long-established practice or, of increasing pertinence, where their installation might be deemed by a court of law, enjoying the benefit of hindsight after an accident, to be reasonable. Fear of legal liability, in the event of an accident, on the part of those responsible for decisions to install, or not install, all or part of the clutter shown in our pictures, is no longer baseless paranoia. 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; all involved fatal accidents where the police concluded there was no driver error and no problem with the vehicle. 11 And the risk to those planners contemplating a departure from established practice appears likely to increase. Also at the time of writing the government is consulting on a draft bill to reform 42 Streets and the culture of risk aversion

45 These experiments have been based on the antithesis of the traditional highway engineer s view of motorists and pedestrians as obedient automatons Headrow, Leeds 13 Accidents involving vulnerable road users have decreased, 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. the law on manslaughter to include an offence of corporate killing the intended effect of which is to increase the likelihood, in the event of a fatal accident, of someone in senior management going to jail for conduct falling far below what can reasonably be expected of the corporation in the circumstances. 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. Early signs are encouraging; as in Denmark and the Netherlands, no adverse effect on safety has been reported. 13 So far, so good. But inevitably on such a busy street the law of averages dictates that someone some day will be killed. One can imagine a queue of no-win-no-fee lawyers forming to represent the bereaved, 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 culture 14 makes this a real and inhibiting prospect for those tempted to abandon the obedient automaton theory of road-user behaviour. As motorised traffic continues to grow, and pedestrians and cyclists continue to retreat, the pressures on planners and policy makers to play safe will increase. There are numerous urban designers and organisations who have been challenging the traditional assumptions of highway engineers for many years. But they are swimming against a powerful current. The opportunity to innovate and reconfigure streets to balance users needs exists but fears of risk and litigation only serve to undermine it. Fundamentally, the most important impediment to the development of more attractive towns and cities is the growth of traffic. Large volumes of motorised traffic cannot co-exist with safe and attractive pedestrian environments. Throughout Europe all the best exemplars of urban design are becoming small islands of civilisation surrounded by a rising sea of car-dependent suburbs. 43 Urban streets and the culture of risk aversion

46 References Charles Landry Further suggested reading: Beck, Ulrich. (1992) The risk society: towards a new modernity. London, Sage. Furedi, Frank. (1997) A culture of fear: risk taking and the morality of low expectation. London, Cassell. Furedi, Frank. (2004) Therapy culture: cultivating vulnerability in an uncertain age. London, Routledge. Giddens, Anthony. (1991) Modernity and self identity: self and society in a modern age. Cambridge, Polity Press. Luhmann, Niklas. (1993) Risk: a sociological theory. New York, de Gruyter. Iain Borden 1. Borden, Iain. (2001) Skateboarding, space and the city: architecture and the body. Oxford, Berg. 2. Chance, Julia. (2001) Connections could be made there in The New Babylonians, Borden, I. and McCreery, S. (Eds) special profile no. 151, Architectural Design, Vol. 71 (3), June 2001, pp Common Place exhibition. The Lighthouse, Glasgow, 22 March 11 June John Adams 1. Department for Transport. (2003) Transport Statistics for Great Britain Hilman, Mayer, Adams, John, and Whitelegg, John. (1990) One false move : a study of children s independent mobility. Policy Studies Institute. 4. Adams, John. (2004) Darling, meet the 800-pound gorilla!, Local Transport Today, 26 August [Available online at 800%20pound%20gorilla%20plus%2 0ensuing%20letters.pdf] 5. Department for Transport. (2004) Transport White Paper See reference Adams, John. (1988) Evaluating the effectiveness of road safety measures, Traffic Engineering and Control, June [Available online at Evaluating%20safety%20measures.pdf] 9. Hamilton-Baillie, Ben. (2004) A street revolution, Green Places, Issue 06, June, pp Jacobsen, P. L. (2003) Safety in numbers: more walkers and bicyclists, safer walking and bicycling, Injury Prevention 2003, Vol. 9, pp Local Government Chronicle, 2 September The Times, 29 November Report on legal action to sue rail companies for not fitting seatbelts on trains. 14. Adams, John. (2003) In defence of bad luck, Spiked, 22 December [Available online at E02C.htm] Acknowledgments Design Unit Print Printed by Ernest Bond Printing Ltd to ISO environmental standards on Revive Uncoated paper (80 per cent recycled content). Photography Front cover: Thanks to Parkour for providing the inspiration. Page 4: Blue Carpet, Newcastle. Designer: Thomas Heatherwick. Andrew Hendry. Page 9: Exchange Square, Manchester. University of Newcastle. Page 17: Windmill Hill, Bedminster, Bristol. Nick Turner, Countryside Agency/Doorstep Greens. Page 21:Bluewater Shopping Centre. Iain Borden. Page 24: Skater in public space. Matthew Worland. Page 25: Pocket park, New York. Iain Borden. Page 27: Schouwburgplein, Rotterdam. Designers: Adriaan Geuze and West 8. Adriaan Geuze. Page 28: Schouwburgplein, Rotterdam. Designers: Adriaan Geuze and West 8. Adriaan Geuze. Page 32: Carrascoplein Shadow Park, Amsterdam. Designers: Adriaan Geuze and West 8. Adriaan Geuze. Page 36: Kew Bridge, London. English Heritage/Save our Streets. Page 39:Marble Arch, London. English Heritage/Save our Streets. Page 40: Road junction, Gloucestershire. English Heritage/Save our Streets. Page 43: Headrow, Leeds. English Heritage/Save our Streets. 44

47 Charles Landry Charles Landry is the founder director of Comedia. He has worked in over 30 countries advising city and cultural leaders on how to develop their cities in imaginative ways. He is the author of The creative city: a toolkit for urban innovators (2000), Culture at the crossroads: culture and cultural institutions at the beginning of the 21st century (2001), and Riding the rapids: urban life in an age of complexity (2004). Dorothy Rowe Dr Dorothy Rowe is one of the world s leading psychologists and authors. Her books on depression, life and happiness such as Beyond fear (1987) and The successful self (1988) are published around the world and read by millions. She writes frequently for national UK newspapers and magazines and makes regular appearances on TV and radio. She lives in London, UK, but spends a considerable amount of time every year travelling and teaching. Iain Borden Iain Borden is Director of the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, where he is Professor of Architecture and Urban Culture. An architectural historian and urban commentator, his wideranging historical and theoretical interests have led to publications on, among other subjects, the history of skateboarding as an urban practice, boundaries and surveillance, gender and architecture, body spaces and the experience of space, and Renaissance urban space. John Adams John Adams is Emeritus Professor in Geography at University College London. His first book, Transport planning: vision and practice, and his subsequent commentaries in the press and on radio and television established him as an influential voice in debates about transport policy. His second book, Risk and freedom: the record of road safety regulation (1985) and his third book, Risk (1995), have radically altered thinking about risk management both on and off the road. 45

48 The Tower Building 11 York Road London SE1 7NX T F E W

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