Bristol Zero Tolerance response to the Bristol Parks Forum draft Vision for 2030 and beyond
As an organisation working with women across the city we absolutely support the need for the free public outdoor space which our parks and green spaces offer. Women are often primary users of parks and green spaces in their roles as parents and carers, and as fewer women drive or own cars they often pass through them as pedestrians or cyclists.
However, we also know that many women in our city feel unable to access and use these spaces because of concerns about safety or experiences of harassment or violence. In 2017 the Bristol Street Harassment Project survey found that 55 respondents reported incidents that had occurred in parks or green spaces (19.5% said it had happened in multiple places), including Castle Park (4 responses and 22% of respondents in central Bristol), Eastville Park (3 responses and 7% of respondents), Brandon Hill, Redcatch Park, St George’s Park and Begbrook Park. One respondent commented “I don’t tend to go on my own or at night to these places”.
This often related to a lack of, or broken, lighting; bushes growing over paths or not being cut back which impacts on visibility; and a lack of maintenance of these spaces such as play areas and public toilets, which makes women feel unsafe and not want to spend time there.
“A drunk man in his late 30s came and talked to me when I was sitting on the grass in Castle Park. He was with 2 other men. I politely but firmly told him I wanted to continue reading yet he insisted on staying and talking. I then told him I wasn’t interested and he brushed me away with a hand gesture calling me something I didn’t understand but which made his friends laughed. Later, he approached a group of young girls: they seem intimidated and left immediately.”
The threat or experience of street harassment or violence in public spaces can have very real impacts on women feeling safe to access those spaces or feeling comfortable there. This needs to be considered when public spaces are designed and maintained to acknowledge the impact of gendered access to public space.
For example, ensuring visibility by and of others so that you can clearly see others from a distance and be seen by them, and not having secluded areas that cut you off from view. There should be multiple path options and entrances and exits in parks so that possibly threatening behaviours, such as stalking, can be avoided. More street lights, emergency phone boxes, multilingual signs and maps, and conscious design of vegetation in parks, green spaces and urban greenways to ensure visibility and openness, can encourage more people to feel safe to use these spaces. Community watch groups and staff who are trained to understand the issues and provide appropriate support as well as visible displays indicating what behaviours are welcome, can also help to enhance this. Similarly, community and family events taking place during the day and after dark can help to reclaim these spaces for people to feel ownership and responsibility, and that these spaces are always for them too.
It is important to ensure that the onus is not just on women to keep themselves safe as this feeds in to victim-blaming attitudes which penalise women for using parks and green spaces alone or after dark, and so are a disincentive to access these spaces at all. Therefore, approaches also need to look at challenging attitudes and behaviours in the community more broadly and promoting expectations for positive behaviour, as well as being clear about what the consequences will be if this is not followed. In Avon and Somerset hate crime based on gender or misogyny is recognised and so any harassment or abuse directed at someone because of their gender can be reported to the police and will be dealt with as a hate crime. Legislation on assault, harassment and stalking can also be highlighted and used to let people know what behaviour will not be tolerated. Bystanders can also be encouraged and empowered to step in and provide support or challenge behaviours to demonstrate what is acceptable to the local community. This information can be encouraged through messages and information on notice boards, at events, and through local community groups and staff, to create a culture where people feel safer and know they will be supported and understood.
These issues need to be taken in to consideration when planning changes or developing parks and green spaces and for any plans to use these spaces in the future to ensure that the impact on safety is included.
Find out more about the Bristol Parks Forum Vision and how you can get involved.
Response to the Vision
- Is there anything that should be added or changed?
We would like to add to point 5) Free access for everyone that this access should not just be understood in terms of financial implications but also includes the ability for anyone to access these spaces acknowledging the barriers that there might be in terms of disability, safety, transport as well as finances.
This also feeds in to point 3) enhancing the physical and mental health and well-being of people. Street harassment and sexual violence can have huge impacts on health and particularly mental health, and so ensuring that parks and green spaces are welcoming and safer for women and that harassment and violence are not tolerated, can help to support women to use these spaces which can in turn benefit their health.
As safety is not explicitly mentioned in the vision this could also be included to acknowledge the impact this has on people using parks and green spaces and how this needs to be considered as a key aspect of this work.
- Any other comments?
We look forward to working with Bristol Parks Forum and other stakeholders in terms of ensuring that the views of those with an interest in parks and green spaces are listened and responded to, and we would be happy to collaborate with the Forum and other organisations to ensure that the safety agenda is a key element of the vision going forward.
- Do you support the Vision?
We broadly support the vision in terms of ensuring access to local parks and green spaces for everyone but this has to also include an understanding of the barriers that some people face to this access and what can be done to create safer spaces and support, in particular for women and children.