Parkology

Make your park safer 1: design and activity

Safety in parks can be a major challenge. Some parks experience theft, violent crime, drug use, and vandalism. In other places, parks suffer from the perception danger, even when incidents of crime are low. Whether safety concerns are real or perceived, they can seriously limit community members’ ability to use and enjoy a park.  

Ready to get started? Great! Here is some information about what makes a park feel safe.

Stewardship and maintenance
Parks that look neglected will almost never feel safe. Good maintenance is crucial, and community members can play a major role!
  • 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
  • Enforcement of rules concerning inappropriate activities need to be maintained to prevent a cycle of withdrawal and hence a reduction in positive use

User-added image
Image credit Terray Sylvester

Visibility
Park users and passerby can reduce negative park uses by providing informal surveillance, but only if they can see into and through the park.
  • Visibility within the park is crucial. The presence of barriers like fences, sharp corners, buildings, or shrubs can reduce visibility. If your park is very large or very natural and having clear sightlines throughout the park is not possible, try to at least maintain clear sightlines along the frequently used pedestrian routes, between activity areas, and along park edges.
  • Visibility into the park from the surrounding streets and buildings is also important. Nearby pedestrians, drivers, and residents may also help provide informal surveillance into the park. By maintaining open edges, passerby can see into the park.
  • Lighting can discourage negative uses by encouraging positive night time use, and makes a park feel safer.

Activity
Visibility is great, but it only makes a park safer if there are other people in the park. Here are some things you can do to generate activity in and around your park, and make the park safer in the process.
  • Create programming and amenities to encourage park use in the evenings.
  • Develop a diversity of activities, not just organized sports facilities and playgrounds. A range of activities can help keep a human presence from early morning to evening, and encourage more widespread use of the park.
  • Develop diversity in your design, including a variety of colors, materials, and plants. This can help attract more users.

User-added image
 Image credit Elyse Leyenberger

Clustering
Clustering activities close together helps keep eyes-on the park, and reduces feelings of isolation that can make a space feel unsafe.
  • Cluster activity areas to provide surveillance in and between then areas, and locate restrooms in these clusters, or close to park entrances, where they will be highly visible.
  • A nicely designed, active park edge will encourage more people to enter the park. Locate food concessions at the park edge that serves both the street and the park.
  • Locate programmed activities near the park perimeter, beside an entrance or along a main pedestrian path.
  • Consider the surrounding land uses when thinking about where to cluster activities. A commercial area may provide informal surveillance into the evening, while an office may be empty at night.

User-added image
Image credit Terray Sylvester

Information
People who are nervous about safety will not appreciate surprises. Telling people what to expect through good signage, clear maps, and a straightforward layout will make a space feel safer.
  • Physical access should be maximized by providing users with a choice of legible routes to and from park areas
  • Signage in the form of maps and descriptive text promotes a greater sense of safety because people feel safer when they know where they are and how to get to where they want to go
  • Access to telephones and park staff can provide a greater sense of well-being and safety.



Additional Resources
NRPA: Creating Safe Park Environments to Enhance Community Wellness
NRPA: Park Advocate Handbook
Project for Public Spaces: What Role Can Design Play in Creating Safer Parks
Project for Public Spaces: Planning, Designing and Maintaining Safer Parks
Project for Public Spaces: What Role Can Programming Play in Creating Safer Parks