|A woman in New Dehli, India protesting epidemic of rapes|
Today I want to write about an extremely uncomfortable, yet important subject-rape. With so much attention in the media focused on the subject and the recent brutal rapes and murders by hanging of girls in India, I feel that this is a timely subject. Specifically the role that urban planning can play in reducing the epidemic of brutal and deadly assaults on women in India. This post was inspired by Neil Padukone's article in City Lab from The Atlantic, speculating how better urban planning in the subcontinent can mitigate the epidemic of rapes and murders of women in the capital city of New Delhi.
In December 2012, a twenty-three year old doctor, referred to in the article as "J" was gang raped and murdered in the Munirika neighborhood of southwest Delhi. In the wake of this horrendous crime and others, New Delhi gained the disgraceful distinction of India's "rape capital." In the aftermath, rape prevention measures have slowly gained traction but many have, correctly, criticized Northern India's misogynistic cultural traditions in the face of national activists' demands for better public safety initiative. However, Mr. Padukone points outs, "But one simple, yet vital, issue has been under-discussed: how urban design influences safety, especially for women and girls.
|Delhi girls protesting|
|Visualizing violence against women|
One of the patron saints of mixed-use planning, Jane Jacobs, called the positive aspects of this design strategy "eyes on the." What this oft-repeated aphorism implies, "if an area is used for multiple purposes, there will always be somebody-a homemaker, shopkeeper, pedestrian, peddler, or office worker-keeping a passive watch, inadvertently but effectively policing it 24 hours a day." Street vendors are the most common example of "eyes on the street," something the police understand very well. Potential criminals are discouraged because of the possible witnesses that can intervene or prevent sexual harassment. On this point, I beg to differ because sexual harassment can also take verbal form not necessarily physical form. When physical harassment does occur it is often done in such a way that potential witnesses don't see the actual act. Mr. Padukone also writes "Mixed-use planning provides a social accountability system: much as it takes a 'village' to raise a child, it can take a whole neighborhood to keep her safe, a reality brought home by the recent "bell bajao" campaign that urges neighbors to intervene against domestic violence." Again I take issue with the Neil Padukone because he doesn't seem to realize that there people in India, and by extension throughout the world, that view sexual and domestic violence as private matters.
|Indian women protesting again|
Over the coming fifteen years, over 300 million are expected to migrate to the cities. As these migrants slowly climb their way up the ladder toward the middle class, they will, with all certainty, take on the trappings of their newly acquired social status, with personal space being the greatest of luxuries. This perceived demand for personal space is what drive the explosion of this obviously misguided planning and development model that has put large isolated apartment blocks throughout the country. As these deserted island-like development spread, the demand for luxury housing grows into a debilitating housing bubble. India's economic downturn has not been a good thing, the tightening credit market and new government provide an opportunity to reconsider just how out of date the single-use model of urban development is and how mixed-use development can offer a better way to prioritize physical safety and livable streets.
Bogotá, Colombia provides us with an important case study of how the mixed-used model of urban planning and design can work in the developing world. As recently as twenty years ago, Bogotá was the very definition of danger; laid to waste by drug wars and gang violence. The city urbanized at a rates of nearly 90%-higher than India's current 35%. However, interventions by dedicated leadership dramatically altered the urban landscape with more efficient mass transit mobility, recaptured public spaces, mixed-use design, and attention paid to people and pedestrians. The result was a highly applauded model of urban development: reduced violence, increased social access, and a greater sense of civic pride and safety which includes an annual "Women's Night Out," which raises awareness and has begun to stem the tide of gender violence.
I would like to conclude by saying this, rape, sexual assault, sexual violence, call it what you will, all means the same thing in my opinion. It is taking an act that is meant to be a supreme expression of love between TWO CONSENTING PARTNERS and weaponizing it. When one partner is so intoxicated that he/she cannot give consent, THIS IS NOT SEX, IT IS ASSAULT. Good urban planning and design, as advocated by Neil Padukone in this article, is a step in the right direction. What will also make a difference is when parents take it upon themselves to have regular, open, and honest conversations with their sons and daughters about sex, drugs, and alcohol. Yes, it's uncomfortable and embarrassing but those feelings will pass more quickly then the anger you will feel when your daughter is raped or your son stands accused of a sexual crime. If we've learned anything from the recent media attention on sexual crimes is this, sexual and domestic violence are not private matters anymore. They cannot be swept under the carpet or dealt with privately. The aftermath affects all of us in the public realm. This must change and change begins with YOU.
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