SAT stands for me (Samantha Anne Thomas)
The act of walking, serves a practical function of getting to and from point A and point B. It also, serves an enormous mode for contemplation and composition of one’s spiritual, cultural and political thoughts and ideologies. In the act of walking you become more in tune with your body, mind, and surroundings. Metaphorically, you can trespass everybody else’s fields – through architecture, agriculture, gardening, cultural and political beliefs. In this journey the path, road, or sidewalk marks the edge of public space meeting private space. You begin to recognize your personal security or insecurities along with the sense of safety emitted for the community at large.
I recently finished Rebecca Solnit’s book, Wanderlust A History of Walking. Her chapter, “Walking After Midnight: Women, Sex, and Public Space” resonated with me due to the fact that there is a social history of women’s freedom to walk at night. Even now when we(women) can walk by day, the night – the melancholy, poetic, intoxicating luster of city lights or rural starlight, is likely to be off limits to us because of the perceptions of women at night as an embedded social history. It is this social history that largely impacts personal feelings of safety and security.
When living in South Africa my personal security turned to fear due to society telling me, as a female, at night, it was unsafe to walk, in any area, because as a women I ran the risk of not only being mugged, but worse, sexually harassed or raped. Like many places in the world, this is a harsh truth. The infographic, I created above, is based on a 2009 Gallup Survey. It visually shows how safe people feel around the world walking at night. The survey found worldwide woman have a greater fear towards walking at night. In 21 countries, including Canada, France, Japan, United Kingdom and United States, women have a 20-percentage-point difference in feeling less safe to walk at night compared to men. The median, worldwide, adult fear for walking alone at night is 36%.
As cities and communities are planning more initiatives toward pedestrian-friendly public spaces, I fear they are not effectively making traversable spaces for all times of the day. The Jane Jacobs theory of “eyes on the street” is failing by night, as it often defaults to the Genovese Syndrome. If walking is a primary cultural act and a crucial way of being in the world, then those who have been unable to walk as far as their feet would take due to darkness, have been denied not merely exercise or recreation, but a vast portion of their humanity. As designers and planners we need to empower the stewardship of citizens in new ways to make night walking an option, not a fear.