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 Milford Haven railings

Work proceeds with our site at Milford and the question arises:

“Should the dock be fenced?”

Our instinct is that the historic character of the dock should be reinstated and the junction of quay and water (the line of life in Milford) ought to be maintained in its simplicity – unfenced.

This question is not new and in many other cities the response is increasingly to fence. But why? Does gentrification of working spaces result in a perceived increase in risk? Are members of the public, rather than the dockers who worked on an unprotected quay all their lives, more at risk? Or is this a skewed idea promulgated by contemporary society about our vulnerability and inability to deal with risks?

Bristol City Council is caught in the same dilemma following the unfortunate death of a cyclist who allegedly caught his tyre in the train tracks along the dock edge, lost control, pitched into the water where he drowned. There is pressure to fence the harbour in specific locations as set out in the guidelines provided by ROSPA . But plenty of anecdotal evidence that accident rates can be worse in fenced locations and it would make access to boats more difficult. The likelihood of a similar accident is against all the odds, yet there is pressure to try to prevent such an incident ever reoccurring, to be seen to be protecting the public, even though the probability of a repeat accident is remarkably low.

Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, coins the phrase ‘possibilistic thinking’ which he says is fuelled by ‘cultural pessimism – knowing and apprehension over the unknown, routinely expecting the worst possible outcomes.’ In his article in Urban Design Alastair Donald says that we speculate about what could go wrong, rather than what is likely to happen. The correlation between this biased thinking and poor design decisions is driven by a belief in the worst case scenario rather than a proper understanding of risks.

We seek delight in the design of urban spaces and surprise is part of that delight. With every potential risk protected against we are fencing ourselves into a banal urban realm where ‘safety’ panders to our anxieties. But life is risky and without its understanding we are not fully adult, nor confident in ourselves.

 


(1) Townscape Gordon Cullen 1983 p 111
(2) ROSPA Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents
(3) Urban Design Ye Zhang and Alastair Donald Risk: What are we still scared of? Spring 2010 pps10-11

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Claim back the highway…

Fighting Talk

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Coming back from a project team meeting today I am struck once again by the disproportionate power of local authority traffic engineers.  The last few years has seen a deluge of new guidance very often put out by the Department of Transport exhorting public realm designers to consider the street as a public space not a highway.  All power to our elbow until the traffic engineers unveil the smoke and mirrors of the traffic model – a vehicle so persuasive and yet so complex that even the design team’s engineers’ softwear won’t run it.  And suddenly all the carefully crafted shared surface falls to the tyranny of this virtual world and the scheme will only function under the watchful blink of traffic lights.  Safety we are told is paramount, that and keeping the traffic moving.  It’s all bunk I say – look to the continent, throw out the rules, chop down the signs, carve up the black top.  Claim back the highway for the public space it is and never never trust obfuscated scenarios generated by computer models and pedalled by the traffic engineers who lean on them.

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