Loitering: To create safer places, instead of banning people invite them in!

By Darren Proulx

no-loitering-flickr-david-wilson
Blank walls often create unwelcoming dead spaces. This space has conflicting messages, the bench says “please come sit down and stay,” meanwhile the “No Loitering” sign says don’t. Photo Source: (Flickr David Wilson https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidwilson1949/)

You have probably seen a sign similar to the one above. Signs like these are often used in areas where people seldom tend to stick around for long. These are usually areas that are aesthetically uninteresting with single land uses such as along blank walls, in parks only serving as open space. The lack of oversight or “eyes on the street” as Jane Jacob coined, can often bring unwanted behaviours like vandalism and public use of drugs, hence signs like these are used as a way to try and prevent these activities. This sign approach assumes that the threat of police or bylaw officers with the authority to remove more people from the space will solve the problem. The lack of people in the space providing a natural oversight and check of unwanted behaviour was the problem in the first place.

empty-park-edmonton
An Edmonton park designed primarily for providing open space surrounded only by single family housing uses is completely empty. If the neighbourhood starts to decline this park could become problematic.

We must refrain from assuming police are actually what prevent crime. Police are best for addressing situations that already happened. The best thing to do for creating crime-free cities is to have people out on our streets as much as possible, this provides witnesses. Potential offenders are uncomfortable with witnesses.

As an example in Noord (North) Amsterdam was Noorderpark a park that had issues with people using hard drugs. In North America our reaction would be to send police in to kick them out or put up signs saying “The consumption of drugs and alcohol is prohibited.”

Amsterdam not only didn’t do that, but counter intuitively they built a bar that serves alcohol (Noorderparkbar) along with playgrounds for children, wading pools, washrooms and indoor and outdoor cultural programming space (Noorderparkkamer). The city followed the Project for Public Spaces place making principles of creating at least ten activities to get as many people, for as many different reasons to be in the space.

The result? Noorderpark now is now a safe, enjoyable place to take your family. The quicker we accept that having mixed uses and many activities (yes including drinking establishments), the further we will benefit with more vibrant places that improve our safety and happiness.

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