Safe streets and a public realm where people feel comfortable are a result of good urban design. Good urban design means building public spaces that support natural surveillance (eyes and ears on the street), promote a sense of ownership, are clean and beautiful.
An example of this would be a main street with mixed-use buildings that have ground-level retail and housing or office space on other floors. Besides having retail that is open during normal business hours, businesses that are open later, like restaurants, coffee shops, and even pubs, need to be a part of the mix. The goal is to make sure that there are always people around that make it hard for illegal and undesirable activity to occur.
Another important thing is to make sure that the public realm is in a state of good repair. This means fixing vandalism and cleaning up tagging right away. Maintaining the public realm sends a signal that the community is safe and discourages undesirable activity.
There is a whole field of study called Crime Prevention through Environmental Design on which many books have been written.
Downtown Langley has some issues when it comes to creating a good public realm. One of the issues is that there are no eyes and ears on the street during some parts of the day; most businesses in the downtown core shut down by the early evening and there are not many mixed-use building in the core. Further, the vast amount of parking lots further reduces creation of a public realm that encourages desirable activity. There are some design issues in many public spaces that need attention.
With this in mind, it is not surprising that both the Langley Centre Bus Exchange and Innes Plaza are two area where people do not feel safe, and undesirable and illegal activity occurs routinely. The bus exchange is surrounded by an ugly, dead mall and Innes Plaza is flank by a massive parking lot. The solution to creating a safe space would be to have retail/restaurant space (some of which stays open for longer periods of time) front both the plaza and the bus exchange. Also, the City needs to support the creation of more market-priced residential spaces in the main core (easier said than done, I know.)
Unfortunately, the City of Langley is looking at band-aid solutions to clean up the bus exchange and Innes Plaza.
With the bus exchange, there are many issues; one of the many being that it is a TransLink facility. This means that the City is unwilling to continue investing in even the simple things like upgrading the lights. TransLink is planning to move the bus loop. Because of the pending move and City Council's unwilling to spend more money on a TransLink facility, the bus loop will continue to feel unsafe to many.
City of Langley staff recently recommended that the following be done to improve the perceived safety of Innes Plaza.
$45,000 for the installation of a video surveillance system
$40,000 for a new lighting
$1,000 to pruning the four oak trees along Glover Road
City Council approved this recommendation, but I have to wonder if video surveillance will really reduce crime or make people safer. For example, all TransLink buses and the SkyTrain system already have cameras. While cameras can help after-the-fact, they certainly don’t make me feel safe when I’m the only person at a bus loop at 10pm at night.
Improving the lighting and sight lines to Innes Plaza is a good move by the city, but the real missing component is to create a public realm that encourages “legitimate” use of an area which will discourage undesirable activity. I fear that the massive parking lots surrounding the plaza will limit legitimate use; the parking lot will need to be transformed to a better use before Innes Plaza is truly successful.
While I’m happy that the City of Langley is trying to clean up the public realm, the solution is less about technology and more about designing a desirable public realm.