Late-night stroll, anyone? Assessing safety in Panaji’s streets

In a photoblog, the CCF team observes footpaths in Panaji from Jane Jacobs’ perspective.

 

Think of a city and what comes to mind? Its streets. If a city’s streets look interesting, the city looks interesting. If they look dull, the city looks dull.

– Jane Jacobs, ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’

As an activist for better cities, Jane Jacobs was very vocal about the failure of planning policy by ground-reality measures. Her 1961 book ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’ was avant-garde in its city planning principles, of which safety of the city was key. According to the urbanist, people feel a city is safe or unsafe depending on how they perceive its streets and footpaths.  

What does safety of footpaths entail? In the chapter ‘The uses of Sidewalks: Safety’, Jane Jacobs explains that peace on the streets is maintained by a “network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves, and enforced by the people themselves.” She breaks down the success of good city neighbourhoods into three main qualities:

  • A clear demarcation between private space and public space;
  • There must be eyes upon the street;
  • Footpaths must have users on them fairly continuously, both to add the number of effective eyes on the street and to induce the people in buildings along the street to watch them.

 

People’s love of watching, activity and other people is constantly evident in cities everywhere.

– Jane Jacobs, ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’

The qualities seem like easy goals, but it is not simple to achieve them. As Jacobs puts it simply, “You can’t make people use streets they have no reason to use. You can’t make people watch streets they do not want to watch.”

The CCF team observed Panaji’s footpaths during various times (office-closing and shop-closing hours, for instance) on a weekday evening to understand the dimension of safety in the city.

Panaji map.jpgKey plan

1. D.B.Road, near Children’s Park

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Despite having good lighting and footpath conditions, and vehicular activity throughout the night, the primary street lacks concrete reasons for using or watching it, thus lacking the checks and inhibitions exerted by eye-policed city streets.

2. Governador Pestana Road, near Panaji Market

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The commercial street sees late-night activity, and consequent surveillance, on account of the local food vendors.

3. M.G. Road

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The mixed-use street draws people late into, and throughout, the night due to the presence of eateries, ice-cream parlours and a 24-hour pharmacy.

4. 18th June Road

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The well-lit commercial street sees constant activity until late into the night. Shopkeepers are an unconscious source of vigilance, and shop activity on the footpaths—people buying, eating and talking— attracts more people.

5. Dr. Dada Vaidya Road, near the Mahalakshmi temple

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The well-lit mixed-use street sees no activity on its footpaths beyond retail-shop closing hours.

6. Ramachandra Naik Road, Altinho

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Despite being well-lit and completely accessible to public use, the interior residential street is closed to public view and is blank of built-in eyes.

7. D.B.Road, near Captain of Ports

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The well-lit primary street sees activity, and consequent surveillance, until late into the night due to the casino commerce.

8. 31st January Road

31st Jan road

The mixed-use street in the old Latin quarter of the city sees activity, and consequent surveillance, at night due to the presence of restaurants and the local bar.  

9. Nanu Tarkar Pednekar Road, Mala

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The residential street lacks sufficient lighting and sees no usual evening activity that attracts eyes.

10. Patto, near the KTC bus stand

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Despite sufficient lighting and footpath conditions, the street in the Patto Central Business District does not see activity on its footpaths after the closure of the bus stand and lacks built-in eyes.

As observed, the problem of insecurity cannot be solved by spreading people out into suburb-like neighbourhoods that require watchman patrol, or by good lighting alone. The observations back what Jacobs stresses on: a well-lit footpath in a dense, mixed-use neighbourhood, having late-night people-attracting ‘activity points’—eateries, bars, movie theatres, et al.—and unconsciously surveyed by ‘built-in eyes’ (such as residences above the commercial fronts) is a safe footpath!

 

jacobs2Jane Jacobs (May 4, 1916 – April 25, 2006) was an urbanist and activist whose writings championed a fresh, community-based approach to city building. She had no formal training as a planner, and yet her 1961 treatise, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, introduced ground-breaking ideas about how cities function, evolve and fail. The impact of Jane Jacobs’s observation, activism, and writing has led to a ‘planning blueprint’ for generations of architects, planners, politicians and activists to practice.

Jacobs saw cities as integrated systems that had their own logic and dynamism which would change over time according to how they were used. With an eye for detail, she wrote eloquently about sidewalks, parks, retail design and self-organization. She promoted higher density in cities, short blocks, local economies and mixed uses. Jacobs helped derail the car-centered approach to urban planning in both New York and Toronto, invigorating neighborhood activism by helping stop the expansion of expressways and roads. She lived in Greenwich Village for decades, then moved to Toronto in 1968 where she continued her work and writing on urbanism, economies and social issues until her death in April 2006.

A firm believer in the importance of local residents having input on how their neighborhoods develop, Jacobs encouraged people to familiarize themselves with the places where they live, work, and play. (Source: The Center for the Living City)

 

The CCF team wishes to thank Tahir Noronha for his contribution to this blog.