Excerpted from Planning, Designing and Maintaining Safer Parks, produced by Toronto Parks & Recreation. This guide is not intended to be a definitive statement on creating safer parks and open spaces, nor is it intended to serve as a template for the design, operation and use of parks.
Designers, operations, recreation staff and citizens all have a vital role to play in creating safer park environments. The key factors to consider when dealing with park safety are summarized below:
Perceptions that a park is unsafe are as important as actual safety.
Involve users in the design or redesign of park spaces.
Legible design enhances safety because it allows people to orient themselves. Feelings of apprehension and insecurity increase when park users do not have a clear understanding of the physical layout of the area they are in.
Formal/Informal surveillance or the extent to which activities in parks can be observed by other people is important for reducing vandalism, inappropriate activities, and feelings of isolation.
Lighting can be improved to enhance perceptions of safety, although this may not reduce actual crime rates. However, improved lighting and increased legitimate activity will allow for greater night time surveillance.
Clear sightlines can be enhance perceived and actual safety. Feelings of safety increase markedly if people can see what is ahead and around them and if other people are visible to them.
Physical access should be maximized by providing users with a choice of legible routes to and from areas.
Good maintenance is crucial to maintain perceptions that areas are low risk. Vandalism can contribute to perceptions of fear because litter, graffiti and broken furniture all suggest a place is uncared for and possibly unsafe.
Diversity can attract a higher intensity of use. Variety in the form, colour, and texture of landscape elements as well as a range of activities contributes to an interesting environment that attracts users. A lack of variety does not encourage repeat visits to a park.
Signage in the form of maps and descriptive text promotes a greater sense of safety because people feel greater control over their environment when they know where they are and how to get to where they want to go.
Access to assistance in the form of telephones and parks staff provide a greater sense of well-being and safety.
Activity and recreational programming can encourage positive use, increase surveillance, limit domination by any one user group and reduce the possibility of inappropriate behaviour. Where people use parks in a positive way and in substantial numbers, all people feel more secure.
Citizen involvement fosters a sense of ownership and pride and builds a constituency of users with an interest in keeping parks safe.
Inappropriate activities need to be discouraged because they result in a cycle of withdrawal from a park and hence a reduction in positive use.