New Delhi: Delhi has consistently performed poorly in surveys that gauge citizen perception of safety. Those perceptions have been repeatedly validated by annual National Crime Records Bureau reports, which say Delhi is the most unsafe of India’s 53 megacities. Very little has been done to remedy the situation.

In an effort to quantify and identify the specific areas of deficit that make Delhi unsafe, a study on ‘The enabling of safe public spaces’, commissioned by the Delhi Urban Art Commission, a government undertaking tasked with developing and maintaining the aesthetic quality of Delhi, recommends the creation of a national commission on safety in order to make not just Delhi, but all Indian cities, safer and more liveable.

Based on detailed site-level studies in 13 different locations across Delhi, the report highlights specific areas of intervention for different types of public spaces – ranging from streets and metro stations to parks and monuments.

“Delhi has a lot of great public spaces but people have such fear of using them, especially women," says Rajen Baraya, an architect and lead author of the study. Citing a survey undertaken by Jagori, an NGO, the report says that most women in Delhi feel even their own neighbourhood is not an adequately safe space.

Simple design interventions such as effective identification of all unlit stretches; narrower streets that encourage ample on-street activity; and lower compound walls so that there are enough eyes on the street in neighbourhoods are some of the recommendations. “City planners and designers have an important role in all of this. Safety is not just a policing issue," says Baraya. “The point is to liberate public space for usage so that our cities become more vibrant," he adds.

Delhi Police’s own internal survey shows there are about 650 unlit stretches in the city. On average, Delhi records more than 150 cases of street crime every day.

“There are many new city plans that are being made without in any way taking safety into consideration," says P.S.N. Rao, chairman of the Delhi Urban Art Commission. For example, both Dwarka and Navi Mumbai have wide roads with poor lighting, making them quite lonely for pedestrians, he says.

“Our attempt is to see if we can use design as a tool to improve safety, at least in some stretches of our cities to begin with. This is not happening right now. Cities need to be more compact, buildings must be a lot closer to the footpath, and residents must be able to see the street so that there are eyes on the streets," Rao says.

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