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Researchers tap open data to make cities feel safer for women

 

The team is analysing data collected from the Safetipin mobile app, which allows users to rate public areas on safety criteria and to flag concerns.

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Researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney are working with India-based social entrepreneurship Safetipin to use open data to help make public spaces feel safer.

 

"Just the perception of being unsafe is enough to restrict the full rights of people to use the city," said Dr Simone Zarpelon Leao from UNSW’s City Futures Research Centre and Smart Cities Research Cluster at the UNSW Built Environment.

 

She says that gender discrimination is the clearest example, with women more likely to feel impeded in their ability to use public spaces, which can affect their comfort, sense of freedom and inclusion in the city.

 

“Much of the existing data is gender-biased and even underestimates the scale of street-based crimes such as sexual harassment and the immense scale of the urban safety challenge we’re facing,” Leao commented.

 

Bottom-up data

 

The team is analysing data collected from the Safetipin mobile app, which allows users to rate public areas on safety criteria and to flag concerns, such as lighting, visibility, transportation, density and more. The points develop a map of where and how the design of the city itself may disadvantage women.

 

"Using a bottom-up approach and treating the user of the space as the expert gives us the best understanding of why the space is unsafe or inaccessible, which can then inform positive environmental change," Dr Leao said. "We’re focused on achieving positive environmental change rather than on reinforcing negative spatial associations. By linking crowdsourced information with municipal governments and communities, we can inform and advocate for social change in a cyclical approach.”

 

Safetipin has been used to inform approaches to safety in 30 cities around the world.

 

The team has analysed crowdsourced data from cities in South Asia and South America to understand urban safety perceptions. They are now partnering with Manipal Academy of Higher Education in, Karnataka, India, to study and improve urban safety in areas throughout Manipal, and hope to apply the technology to more cities worldwide.

 

Delhi

 

Safetipin has been used to inform approaches to safety in 30 cities around the world. For example, over 8,000 poorly lit public areas in the city of Delhi were identified using the open data generated through the app, and later improved by the city government. Other improvements have included identifying the best locations for CCTV cameras; new footpaths for better accessibility; and the promotion of mixed-land-use development for visibility.

 

"Large-scale data collection can lead to change, and safety will ensue when more people become engaged with the issue."

 

UNSW’s Dr Scott Hawken says mobile applications like Safetipin are part of a growing movement using open, publicly generated data to bring a gender-balanced perspective to urban design and inform more accessible and inclusive city planning policy.

 

"Large-scale data collection can lead to change, and safety will ensue when more people become engaged with the issue," Dr Hawken said. "Despite its ubiquity, technology doesn’t provide the same opportunities for everyone."

 

The project is funded by the Australia-Korea Foundation.

 

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