activating public space/park (as it relates to safety and security)


Hi All,

I am looking for articles and examples for a little pet project of mine.  A local pocket park in the neighborhood sits unused in its current state as a patch of grass with a few trees.  The county who owns the park has wanted to improve the park but the old guard who live in the neighborhood are opposed to anything which might make the park a destination.  Their concern is mainly based on safety and security.  This is slightly ironic because on a weekly basis I hear about condoms tossed in the park (lucky to not have found any on my own or with my son) and have just heard from a resident who lives adjacent to the park there is increase drug use around the park.

I am beginning to put together a presentation showing other local pocket parks with playgrounds, water fountains, exercise equipment, lighting, site furniture and other amenities which bring people to the park.  My position is that if there is always a chance of others being at the park there will be less condoms found laying around, less drug use and overall increased safety in the area surrounding the park.  This seemingly obvious point seems totally lost on the older neighbors who are afraid of strangers and keep their blinds closed.  I would like to make this presentation to the neighborhood watch, the local block club, the neighborhood association as well as parks and recreation and the county council.  If anyone could point me to books or articles discussing these issues or case studies that might be of interest it would be most helpful.

Aug 30, 11 5:04 pm

Sounds like time to pull out some Jane Jacobs, Death and Life of the Great American City. Your instinct of trying to keep eyes on the park at all times it right on.

Aug 30, 11 6:38 pm

>Want Park to be used the "right" way.
>Park is actually being used.

Seriously? The well-used, well-intentioned park is a myth. Let's just say, for instance, the park is cleaned up, patrolled and there's no longer any degenerates around. Will people actually use the park?

Because chances are if it's not being used now by the "right" people and you send the "wrong" people somewhere else, all you have is an unused piece of government property that's eating valuable tax revenue while moving, not solving, a more significant social issue.

If anything, there's a possibility that this may actually cause more crime.

Aug 30, 11 6:47 pm

Also, actually prove that there's any real drug use going on.

Anytime there's any group of people under the age of 35 hanging out in public and having a good time, it's generally always assumed that they are "doing drugs" and "getting pregnant." Also, that assumption is overwhelmingly applied to blacks more so than whites. Might be something to put into consideration.

Aug 30, 11 6:49 pm

william h. whyte, the social life of small urban spaces, both the book and film...


any of jan gehl's books...


Aug 30, 11 8:51 pm
won and done williams

I bet you could find some examples here.

Project for Public Spaces

Aug 30, 11 9:18 pm

Erin, I was thinking of dusting off the Death and Life of the Great American City as well.

J,  I don't know why you have come at this with an adversarial tone but ok.  I cannot imagine how trying to activate a public space can cause more crime.  You can say the park is being used, similarly to being able to say that the dead space under a stair is being used.  The thing is the park isn't being used to it's fullest potential; it is more often than not empty.  More often than not it is an over-sized traffic island between three crossing streets.  Sure, as you claim, even if we are able to renovate the park it might still not be used.  But then why ever try to make improvements?  There will always be a chance they fail.  I prefer the park (field) of dreams.  If we build it, they will come.  How do you make sure the "right" people use the park?  It will take more than just a swing-set, bench or light fixture, but any one of those items provides an opportunity not currently available.  Another part of my proposal is programming monthly activities in the park.  A jazz band, a movie night, travelling theater...something for everyone.  My dream is to see the park full once a month in the summer with the streets around it closed as well.  A public living room for the neighborhood if you will.

As to your second statement.  I personally haven't seen the drug use.    To your under 35 point, well that just fits into what the old guard is saying.  They feel that if we have more people in the park it will just be more drugs and more sex.  My point is if we are able to activate the park and it becomes a destination for people of all ages we won't need to worry about it.  I can't imagine too many people feeling comfortable to use drugs or have sex with others around the park.  This park can be a place for my 1.5 year old son just as it can be for our 10 year old neighbor and the 17 year old down the street, just like the park we drive to now.  My son climbs on the same rocks that the teenagers use to sit on and hangout.  This park has the potential to be anything to everyone.

As to you third point.  This is an age thing not a race thing.  People do not move out of our neighborhood.  Simply put they are carted off on a stretcher.  Old folks in the neighborhood have had things this way for 35-40 years.  They aren't comfortable with change.  They aren't comfortable with unknown.  What I am trying to do is explain to them that we can accomplish both of our goals.  They can feel safer, and we can have a park for the new families who are moving into the neighborhood.

Aug 30, 11 9:51 pm

if it is "an over-sized traffic island between three crossing streets" you might look into the playgrounds that aldo van eyck designed for the city of amsterdam starting in the 40s... he designed something like 700 of them over a period of about 30 years, with most of them being built in "left-over" or "in-between" spaces... this book about the playgrounds is out of print, but you can probably find it in a good architecture library...

Aug 31, 11 8:02 am

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