Ensuring crowded places protection

In today’s world we welcome open and social spaces to enjoy time in a safe and secure environment. The question is what are the pressures and needs that must be considered when looking at protection measures?

The planet is becoming increasingly crowded, with crowds forming for a wide variety of reasons, from day to day commutes, to shopping and visits to beaches, attractions and public events. Extreme crowding in a complex environment can cause particular difficulties for emergency response, so it is important that we understand the needs of the space and the people using it before adding protection measures.

Where it is seen as great fun to get a flash mob to attend an already dense location such as a station, the impact of such events could have serious repercussions. We must also consider the everyday users before we start to restrict movement in any way for any singular purpose. Protection has to strive to ensure safety at all times and from all reasonably anticipated risks. But safety of whom and from what should be the primary questions.

What are crowded places?
Crowded places cover many types of locations and it can be difficult to provide advice in protecting them. There are tourist locations such as palaces and museums; there are sports stadia and festival arenas. In fact anywhere a building or open space attracts crowds. There are commercial places such as shopping centres and town centres. There also transport hubs and stations.

Modern planning regulations require facilities such as parking, accommodation, public conveniences and food establishments, making them complex built-up areas. They are often multi-faceted, have multi-occupancy and impact many organisations. In other words - not simple!

All of these locations can have diverse impacts which can affect the composition of the crowd, be it cultural, economic, financial, or social. This is where we have found the most challenges in researching crowded places.

What are the key issues?
There has been vast amounts of research focussing on most locations, it usually aims to either: to bring in more footfall; maximise financial benefits; improve targets; understand usage and benefits; and to improve movement, environment and design.

However, none of the research has looked at all the issues. In 2007, the Joseph Rowntree foundation researched the social interactions in urban public places. It stated that ‘the publicness of public places is conditional and contingent’. It showed how different people used public spaces and analysed how social interactions contributed to the cohesion of various communities within a community, at different times and in different ways. It also showed how self-regulation of these groups actually made it manageable.

In the final report it referenced ‘The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE)’ 2004 space manifesto where it was stated that ‘public spaces are the glue that holds society together, the places where we meet different people, share experiences, and learn to trust one another.’

The report went on to state: ‘In addition to using public spaces (for shopping, leisure and so on) and also use them as places to encounter other (familiar and unfamiliar) people and events. People also use public spaces to maintain their own presence as a part of the social entity that is the town or the neighbourhood.’

A new priority for the ‘open city’ in 2010 was ‘The Accessibility of Public Space’s for People with Dementia’ . This writes about the disorientation those with from inhospitable, difficult to interpret and to navigate; finding them threatening or distressing. The paper called for the open space design to be looked at from the view of a person with dementia. Like all disability and equality requirements, this has to be taken into account when we look to redesign or change a space. Accessibility measures must be worked with other issues to ensure that a holistic view is taken in design.

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