Women’s public safety in vertical villages

By Janette Corcoran

The dangers lurking in public places are told to women from a young age. The advice is that these risks should be managed by adapting behaviour and/or restricting engagement accordingly. 

But what if these public spaces are part of our “home”?

For vertical villages, this can mean both outside and inside our complexes.

In terms of outside, it is the case that many vertical villages have “privately owned but publicly accessible” external areas – such as gardens, access corridors and pathways. The result of developers’ deals, this now means that many of our complexes have – and are responsible for (and that’s a topic for another time!) – areas surrounding our abodes, which are open to the public right up to our entrance doors. This often sees women quickly passing through these spaces, keys in hand, ready for quick entry or use as a weapon!  

As regards inside spaces, we refer to these as our common areas, which are a building’s shared amenities such as foyers, lifts, pools, gyms, etc. Many women already know that there are times to avoid using these facilities, especially if short stays operate in the building. 

Here’s the thing.  

There may not currently be many incidents reported. But that does not mean our vertical village’s public or common spaces are seen as “safe” or “welcoming”. 

Often times it means that women have removed themselves from visiting these areas or using a facility. This was a finding of the Free To Be project where King St wasn’t identified as an area where young women didn’t feel safe – because they didn’t go there. 

But more than this. 

As one neighbour put it “I don’t want ‘safe’ to mean that I made it into my apartment okay. I want to feel entitled to use our facilities and outside areas …”

So, what to do?

Borrowing unashamedly from the UN Women’s “Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces for Women and Girls”, some actions could include: 

Survey residents’ safety perceptions. Many buildings now have systems that support online surveys, but care must be taken with the design of the questions. The focus should be hyperlocal (i.e. not general safety questions) and opportunity given to provide nuanced responses (i.e. not just yes/no). 

Capacity build. It is the case that some who manage our buildings will not be sufficiently aware of gender safety issues (and there are many more issues than mentioned here). Attention must be given to developing building-specific strategies and processes, including ongoing monitoring.  

Partner. Connect with groups and authorities that are responsible for and/or have skills in gender safety. This could include neighbouring buildings that share similar challenges. 

Promote women’s and girls’ use of public/common spaces. Actively support transformative activities that show how the spaces can be respectfully utilised. 

Perceptions of safety influence how our vertical village spaces will be used and who can use them. These perceptions rest upon not only the physical aspects of these spaces, but also our memories of our experiences in these areas. A negative history of, for instance, encountering intoxicated groups in our public spaces will not be immediately remedied by improvements to lighting.

However, we have a moment now, when women’s safety is top of mind and there is an opportunity for us to unlock women participation in improving our vertical village’s public spaces – shaping them in ways that signal that women actually belong here •

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