The park in the dark

Tower Hamlets’ zealous park wardens locked me inside Victoria Park (again), reminding me that Boris Johnson once said how disgraceful it is that every evening, thousands of acres of London are placed Strictly Off Limits to the public. As the evenings draw in, the amount of London available to us shrinks and shrinks. It is a shameful admission of failure by our society that the authorities refuse to guarantee the safety of citizens in parks after dusk, and rather than confronting this problem just lock us out.

Boris Johnson’s manifesto for public space London’s Great Outdoors says:

“Many of London’s larger public parks are fenced and locked at night. This can create severance as sections of the city are literally decommissioned. It can also turn many surrounding streets into inactive cul-de-sacs. The main reason for locking London’s parks at night is fear of crime and antisocial activities.

“However many parks, such as Highbury Fields and Streatham Common, are not fenced or gated. This suggests that 24-hour access could be made to work in more of our parks and green spaces with the right design and right lighting and management regimes. High quality, creative lighting can increase feelings of safety and encourage ownership and use.

“I want to ensure that access to public space is as unrestricted and unambiguous as possible. The needs of different users and age groups can be accommodated through intelligent design. With proper consideration at the outset of safety issues, the usage of public spaces can be extended well into the evening without the need for unnecessary barriers.”

This is absolutely correct, although I’m not sure much progress Boris has actually made.

It is only right that some green space is fenced off. It would probably be thought unfair to inhabitants of residential squares to encourage people to congregate outside their windows all night long. Where people do congregate at these residential squares, like they did at Percy Circus and Vernon Square near Kings Cross, the authorities are justified in dispersing them.

Highbury Fields isn’t fenced, and is safe to use and cross all night. Although in a distinctly less ritzy part of town, London Fields is also safe at night. It is well-lit, has clear lines of sight right across the park (at least it does until Hackney’s dreadful council goes through with its plans to astroturf, fence off, and plant up a good portion of the middle of the fields), and is therefore used as a route by pedestrians and cyclists 24 hours a day.

As in all cases, the best way to reduce crime and make somewhere safe it to make sure it is used. Victoria Park is getting a restoration in time for Olympics – I hope part of that is restoring the lovely gas lamps along its paths, and keeping it open into the evening. When places are treated by authorities as being unsafe, people use them less which leads to them actually being more unsafe.

Published in: on September 13, 2010 at 8:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

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