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How can we make the streets safe? This question – or lament – often arises when one crime has an extraordinary effect. The chilling Melbourne case of twenty-nine-year-old Jill Meagher is one such incident. Meagher was raped and murdered early one Saturday morning in 2012, while walking along Sydney Road, Brunswick, on her way home from a pub. In the immediate aftermath of her disappearance federal and state politicians weighed in, announcing funds for more closed-circuit television (CCTV) security systems as a solution. A week later, thirty thousand people marched down Sydney Road in honour of Meagher’s life and to protest against violence towards women. The story made international headlines and a creeping fear spread through the community.
The future success of a place may be determined by how we respond to such incidents. As Jane Jacobs wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), “It does not take many incidents of violence on a city street … to make people fear the streets. And as they fear them, they use them less, which makes the streets still more unsafe.” This situation prompts important questions: What role can designers play in restoring perceptions of safety? Should they more actively participate in the debate to ensure that public funds are spent effectively? What are the challenges? The opportunities?