In light of the terrible attack in Nice, France, that senselessly claimed the lives of at least 80 people and left another 50 between life and death, we find it urgent to address the context in which it took place: a pedestrianized public space in the city. A place where people celebrated the national day of their democratic country, and where public events and activities were taking place. This is not just an act of terror on all of liberty, but on the freedom of people to stroll their cities safely and to express themselves, and on the ability of cities to accommodate events that serve all people equally, regardless of race, religion, citizenship, income, or background.
People pay respects to the victims of the Bastille Day Terror Attack in Nice, France
BBC News, in an article covering the attack, published a twitter comment by Harjit Sarang, saying:
"Running through crowds in Nice with kids and terrified. Never taking kids to a public event again".
This comment is very concerning, as it sheds light on the safety of cities, on people's sense of safety in public spaces and public events. The interesting thing about the attack is that no explosion was detonated. It used a large vehicle to crush people as they gathered in a public street. What does this new streak of attacks mean for the spatial future of public spaces and the spatial future of our cities? Are our cities going to turn into barricaded responses to the agenda of criminals and terrorists? Will there need to be a security buffer space between pedestrianized gathering zones and those that are vehicular, for example?
The public’s need for gathering places is evident, now more than ever. The need to celebrate, to protest, to share stories, and to grieve in a common place is a universal right. At the same time, how can we as urban designers strive to balance the desire for safe cities with the need for vibrant and connected public spaces? We acknowledge that fear factors are real, but the methods to counter it should not result in a fortress mentality and in alienating spaces of division. Public space, now more than ever, needs to be designed to include the public’s voices and their desires. It also needs to integrate important operational strategies, such as security and maintenance, as part of its conceptualization and not as an afterthought, in order to provide safety, while preventing barrier and barricade mentality.
People show their solidarity with the French people after the Charlie Hebdo attack
The recent tragic events around the world shine a light on the importance of public spaces, and on the threat they face. We must fight these threats, but in order to do so, there is an urgency to address the reasons, that are leading up to these tragedies, Those reasons are rooted in much deeper social and spatial issues, that need to be looked into very carefully, and tackled immediately. Integrated strategic and proactive security strategies for public spaces are very important, but they need to be coupled with an immediate response to implement long-term socio-spatial, educational, and political strategies that go beyond site, in order to protect our cities, our streets, and our public spaces, and in order to ensure the safety and liberty of all urban citizens.