Making safe outdoor spaces in an anxious age

Whether a gun or a vehicle is the chosen weapon, many designers now think about thwarting terrorism when creating buildings and outdoor gathering spaces. - (Photo / Stock photo)

How do designers make outdoor gathering spaces both welcoming and safe?

It’s a vexing problem facing cities and towns around the globe as we get more and more reports of terrorist attacks hitting areas where people gather in outdoor public spaces.

Barely a month goes by without hearing about someone killing or injuring a group of people who, unfortunately, were outdoors at the wrong moment.

Whether a gun or a vehicle is the chosen weapon, many designers now think about thwarting terrorism when creating buildings and outdoor spaces. Naturally, nothing can completely prevent an attack or even a deadly accident from occurring, but many designers are rising to the occasion of creating safer, yet appealing buildings and outdoor spaces.

The ugly, drab concrete barriers are giving way to trees, bike racks, benches, planters and other structures designed to slow or stop vehicles from plowing into pedestrians.

You can read more about it in this Washington Post article here.

Meanwhile, this article from The Verge talks about how architects are designing buildings with mass shootings in mind. A case in point is the new design for Sandy Hook Elementary School, built to replace the site of the horrendous massacre there in 2012. You can read about it here.

No one likes to think about these tragedies, but in today’s world, it’s impossible not to. And designers play a vital role in helping people stay safe when terrorism strikes.

In the Greater Lehigh Valley, some of these same design concepts play out.

But one design feature that some designers overlook is the need for safety with sidewalk cafes. Beyond accommodating diners on sidewalks, some cities and towns floated the idea of creating parklets, outdoor seating that extends into the street.

I think that idea is absurd. Not only does it eat up valuable parking space, it makes people a deadly target for a texting or drunk motorist.

These are temporary structures and most designs don’t look like they’d stop a vehicle from crashing into it. Even with a strong barrier, I’d be reluctant to eat in the street with cars whizzing by a few feet away.

Designers should think not only about the importance of putting more feet on the street and encouraging foot traffic, but also continue putting safety first.



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