Fear and Urban Spaces
Ed. Note: This is a repost of an older but still relevant Medium article.
I recently came upon this gem of a story from the New York Times about this area of a Queens park where no one really goes because it’s unsafe…oh and also someone was recently murdered there.
“I’ve never run that trail,” Ms. Infante wrote in an email. “Everyone in the neighborhood knows that weeded area can be dangerous and usually has unsavory characters around.”
The first thing I thought about with this article was how obvious it is that this is a scary, dangerous place. It’s easy to reach on foot, surrounded by lots of populated areas, and secluded with lots of places to hide. As Jane Jacobs reminds us constantly throughout her work, the grand irony of urban planning is that, generally speaking, more people makes a space safer. That other people are also the primary driver of fear and unsafety makes this a little hard to wrap our collective heads around.
But this article highlights the principle perfectly; in the well-trod and actively used parts of this same park people feel safe and comfortable alone. Yet, in the spit of secluded land called “The Weeds” no one feels safe, and it has been the scene of multiple violent episodes in just the last few years.
Writ large, this phenomenon explains why suburban land use patterns have been so conducive to loneliness, depression, suicide, and atomization. We’ve created an urban environment that is largely filled with small, isolated places of activity, surrounded by vast islands of secluded no-man’s land that is ugly, useless, and quite frankly a little scary.