Perceived Safety & Equitable Access: An Investigation of the Northwest Arkansas Greenway

by Jessica Shearman, Associate ASLA

Context map (detail) / image: Jessica Shearman, Assoc. ASLA

Urban connectivity via green corridors that also integrate habitat is a tool for promoting resilience. Other than functioning as sustainable design and development, these areas can also serve people when combining green corridors and public space. With these types of public spaces, the function expands to not just habitat and ecology, but also reverberating social systems into equitable and just spaces.

As designers and planners, we view public space as the lifeblood for sustainable and democratic places, and policymakers are also catching on, with the United Nations’ 2017 Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development concluding that urban spaces are important for addressing global challenges. While prioritizing regional ecological connections with increasing access to public space seemingly accomplishes a range of objectives, a conflict around the public’s perception of safety in these spaces may arise.

Perceived safety can be defined as an awareness and emotional reaction to space and place based on one’s background and experiences. It can be directly linked to equitable access and the universal right to mobility and public space regardless of gender, race, sexuality, age, abilities, and resources. A lack of perceived safety considerations often inhibits certain communities and groups from accessing public or green spaces, thus limiting their quality of life. While creating public spaces that are ecologically resilient can promote green connections, these spaces can also be a barrier for some marginalized communities accessing space. These issues provoke questions around how we can reconcile potential conflicts and create resilient green space, perceived safety, and equitable access.

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