How security is transforming public space

Temporary security measures often become permanent. Image: Getty.

The recent security <a data-cke-saved-href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/14/us/series-of-secret-service-blunders-e... href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/14/us/series-of-secret-service-blunders-e... "="">lapses at the White House have brought to the forefront the old question of how to effectively secure public spaces. As officials weigh increasing perimeter security and installing additional checkpoints at public areas adjacent to the White House, it’s worth examining the effects of counter-terrorism measures on our urban experience.

Jersey barriers, bollards, restricted areas, CCTV cameras and security guards have transformed public space in many cities. At the same time, planners and urban advocates strive to balance the desire for safe cities with the need for vibrant and connected public spaces. One hallmark of a democratic society is the ability of citizens to gather and move freely about the city.

Balancing security and civility

Community participation in the planning and design of public areas results in safe and vibrant spaces. There is evidence that non-invasive methods such as Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED), which implements, in the design of spaces, strategies like the creation of good sightlines to put “eyes on the street,” may translate into less crime. But security measures imposed upon people can also detract from public spaces, discouraging gatherings, eliminating services, or even making public space more dangerous.

Some security measures are the result of federal security guidelines and professional threat assessments. Others seem to be reactionary: for instance when officials installed temporary French barriers around Boston’s City Hall Plaza after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Designed as crowd control devices, they cannot withstand vehicular force or attempted truck bombings. The result is a cordoned-off plaza that simply blocks pedestrians from accessing a vast public space that already has trouble enticing people. The 2013 Boston Marathon bombings have forced us to focus on security in public spaces once again. But security should not be the sole consideration in how our public spaces are designed and used.

Cities function well when people can enjoy social and physical freedom. Unnecessary security measures can erode our right to access city spaces, exploit fear and insecurity and promote feelings of vulnerability and anxiety. This sense of vulnerability leads to increasing security measures, creating a vicious cycle in which more is always perceived as better.

Security machismo

My ongoing research on counter-terrorism measures in Boston’s financial district and government center starts with a fundamental question: what were the motives for securing public spaces in the first place?

An environment of pretext securitization and pretext responses – in which “pretext” describes false responses to security threats – is one culprit.

In some office towers, clients compared the secure company headquarters in New York City to the Boston satellite office and wondered why there was such an open door in Boston. This comparison prompted some building personnel to needlessly upgrade security and perimeter protection to assuage fears.

A focus on maintaining market edge has caused building owners to install security measures and block public access to stay current with the competition. If your neighbor has the latest in security, it’s easier to market your building if you have the latest in security too.

The need for a high level of securitization is often about prestige. In my Boston field research, public officials and building owners boasted of being a “top-ten target,” a kind of security machismo that promotes bigger and better security upgrades wherever possible.

This perceived need for security also satisfies the desire to deflect to another target. Many buildings sport “hardened” perimeters as a tool to entice would-be terrorists to look to the path of least resistance and shift terrorism strikes to neighboring buildings.

Security for profit?

To secure necessary insurance and financing, developers and designers drop to the drafting room floor amenities such as an atrium, a rooftop garden and ground floor retail. In the search for profits, manufacturers of security equipment and the security assessment industry call the design shots. Without expertise in security assessment, owners, architects and landscape architects turn to equipment manufacturers and consultants to provide design specifications and advice. The security industry is happy to step in.

In these scenarios and others, design follows the money. The Department of Homeland Security enjoyed a 301% increase in spending over the decade after 9/11. DHS security funding creates security needs – the result being that every problem can have a security solution.

Alleged security threats also allow some companies to perniciously reclaim privately owned public space for private use and profit. Just two days after 9/11, the owners of the John Hancock tower in Boston decided to permanently close the top-floor Hancock Observatory, the closest thing Boston had to a museum of the city. The decision was never revisited, even as public access was reinstated in high-risk structures such as the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty in New York City. The public lost an iconic public space while the building owners gained valuable class A office space.

More than a decade after 9/11 it is fair to say that when security measures come, they tend to stay. It is not clear that any security interventions have been dialed back. The prevailing wisdom is still that more is better. And who’s to argue? No one wants to be the one who made the bad decision. An obsession with security creeps into the public realm and into privately-owned public spaces and becomes white noise. But this new normal has more to do with private interests than public security agendas. The Conversation

Susan Silberberg is a lecturer in urban design & planning at at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the Founder and Managing Director of CivicMoxie, LLC, a planning and urban design group. She received funding from The Boston Society of Architects Research in Architecture Grant Program to support her research on the securitization of public space post-9/11.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.