Downtowns can draw people in for pleasant strolls or for traversing a no-man's land where drug dealers, hookers, and gang-bangers ply their trade with impunity in dark nooks and crannies.
In one way or another land uses are the key to urban safety and from what I saw this summer, success or failure depends on one particular type of land use - the surface parking lot.
PARKING LOT DESIGN
We obsess on the parking lot as though cars are old enough to want their own room. They are everywhere. By some estimates they comprise up to 30% of downtown land use. It's as though cars have their own vote in the urban household. And if you talk to developers and shop owners, they do.
Yet to anyone amendable to reason and unwilling to sing the praise of the status quo, most parking lots are shameful. They are under-lit (or over-lit), poorly designed and offer poor access controls (or fortress-like walls). They are perfect spots for crime. CPTED consultant John Roberts has written a passionate story about suburban parking lot crime in Target: Wal-Mart.
Similar risks exist in urban parking lots. The obvious design flaw is wayfinding. Wayfinding is an abysmal mess in most parking lots. Wayfinding is one of the easiest problems to solve. A few years ago Saskatoon planner Elisabeth Miller and myself created a design guidebook including 24 design recommendations for surface parking lots.
Here are a few other examples: