Why I feel safer in cities
I have always felt safer in cities than in suburban or rural areas. The city is always on. There are witnesses. There are other eyes and ears. I don’t feel isolated. If something happens to me, I take comfort in knowing there’s a good chance someone else might see or hear it, or even accidentally interrupt it. My natural patterns of behavior reveal that I'm aware of the heartbeats in the buildings around me, and rely on that network for protection and prevention. Admittedly, the feeling of safety doesn’t necessarily equate to actual safety. But if others identify the same cues and patterns, I wonder if there is a way to tap into those factors that increase feelings of safety, to affect an increase in actual safety.
I have noticed that if I get scared walking alone at night, I naturally walk closer to the streets, and away from the dark edge of shuttered storefronts, overhangs and doorways. I feel like I’m more visible to the apartment windows above, and I like the broader vantage point it gives me, it's empowering. I have noticed that if I am walking at night, even in a group, we tend to favor the streets and neighborhoods with 24 hour businesses--which may seem counterintuitive, considering what some of those businesses might be--because lights and activity make a difference. Streets with a concentratation of retail, office and government use become dark canyons at night. But the streets that string together enough instances of light and activity--convenience stores, bodegas, restaurants, bars, hotels, transportation stops, taxi stands--are where I walk at night. Keep in mind, if the streets do not house a diverse variety of businesses, if they aren't mixed-use, then the paths I choose at night might not be the paths I choose to take during the day. During the day I might favor residential or retail areas with doormen and shoppers. I see this pattern of behavior in my friends as well.
Over-the-Rhine: Cincinnati, OH
Further, I have found that I rely on the social network that comes with living a pedestrian life in neighborhoods with diverse types of residents: shopkeepers, doormen, delivery people, street vendors, and people who live on the street. That diversity contributes to my safety because they become a resource, they change the environment. If I have to walk every day through a neighborhood where everybody lives inside, I automatically feel more vulnerable.
These patterns have been true no matter what city I've been in. Other factors and behavior have changed, depending on the city or country, but these have remained constant. If they are true for others, and if we can identify those factors--the noise, the pedestrians, the traffic, the residents, the network of witnesses, the storefronts, the lights, the infrastructure--we can then look for scalable ways to leverage them.