Academic journal article Rural Society

Sense of Safety in Public Spaces: University Student Safety Experiences in an Australian Regional City

Academic journal article Rural Society

Sense of Safety in Public Spaces: University Student Safety Experiences in an Australian Regional City

Article excerpt


Planning stresses the importance of promoting ways to enhance the sense of safety of people with diverse values as part of improving the liveability and sustainability of daily life environments in cities and communities. To plan and design safe and convivial places, planners require a rich understanding of how people live, encounter others and move around, as well as whether social groups experience sense of safety in public spaces differently so appropriate planning and design policies can be developed and implemented (Fincher & Iveson, 2008; Forester, 1999; Healey, 1997). It is believed promoting safe places is important for enhancing regional cities in Australia. Focusing on Bendigo, a regional city in the state of Victoria, this article discusses how local and international university students experience safety in the Central Business District (CBD). Taking a normative stance, this study used Nasar's Safety model (1993) which is based on prospect and refuge theory yet argues not only the prospect and refuge, but also presence of people, can have influence feelings of safety in regional cities. Urban vitality and specific design features, such as prospect and refuge, are pivotal for making safer spaces for diverse social groups.

This study builds on past research that has attempted to identify the relationship between fear and physical features. Most research on fear of crime focuses on environmental features, such as graffiti, dilapidated buildings, enclosures, alleys and disorderly areas. Although some studies investigate whether the combination of environmental and social variables create low or high fear environments (Jorgensen, Ellis, & Ruddell, 2013; Nasar & Jones, 1997), little research attempts to understand how social variables, such as the presence of people, gender and physical features, influence sense of safety or how social groups with different ethnic backgrounds, such as international students, experience regional and rural environmental settings.

Bendigo is a university and receiving city for skilled international and humanitarian migrants that aspires to be a significant multicultural centre. The international and migrant population has increased dramatically over the last 10 years (Australian Education International, 2009). To meet continued growth and future planning visions, safety issues faced by university students, migrants and citizens have become increasingly important. Bendigo provides a unique opportunity to understand how fear of crime is experienced in a non-metropolitan centre by Asian international and domestic students who live and study in this regional city as many studies on general fear of crime among campus students have been conducted on campus settings in large-city metropolitan areas (McCrea, Shyy, Western, & Stimson, 2005; Nasar & Jones, 1997; Nyland, Forbes-Mewett, & Marginson, 2010).

Police crime data show the incidence of crime in the Bendigo CBD is not particularly high compared with metropolitan centres, such as Melbourne or Geelong, or elsewhere in Victoria (Victoria Crime Statistics, 2014). Low rural crime rates for some types of crime lead to common sense constructions of rural places as safe places. By basing research on such assumptions, studies have failed to analyse the implications and experiences of rural fear (Pain, 2001) while a regional study found a considerable proportion of Bendigo residents (25-30%) felt Bendigo's CBD, particularly areas around Hargreaves Mall, the station and night clubs, were unsafe at night (City of Greater Bendigo, 2004). Thus, although Bendigo's crime rate is not high or unusual compared with the state and Melbourne city, concerns about personal safety exist that are typical across Australia's small cities and larger rural towns.

Literature review and theory

Fear of crime is an emotion and important emotional priority for individuals using public spaces. According to the cognitive tradition, feelings of fear result when people judge real (untidy area) or imagined (ghosts) objects as dangerous or threatening and evaluate characteristics associated with objects, situations and individuals (Smith & Pain, 2009). …

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