STAFF BLOG: DEAR MELBOURNE, YOUR URBAN PLANNING MAKES ME NERVOUS

BY LAURA BROWNING, COMMUNICATIONS INTERN AT THE EQUALITY INSTITUTE

18/05/2017

Photo by Linda Xu

Photo by Linda Xu

In the last three weeks alone I have spent $247.64 on Uber: the equivalent of an entire week of rent and utilities, at least three weeks of groceries, 12.3 games of strike bowling, or roughly 750 rolls of Woolworths toilet paper.

Am I fiscally irresponsible? Probably: I’m 21 and I eat a lot of smashed avo. But the main reason for my exorbitant investment in Uber’s future is the risk that if I don’t, I might end up adding to the 87% of Australian women who have been verbally or physically attacked while walking home.[1]

I have discovered that the biggest risk area that I face is not on trains or trams, but in the walk I take from these locations to my house. The urban station offers no car parking and the surrounding streets only contain patrolled, non-permit zones and sparse 2-hour parking spaces. That means I walk the 1.5km to my house on foot, in the dark, and very alone.

Being quite a self-assured country girl, I entered city life with a complete disregard for my personal safety. But after several of these terrifying scurries home, I changed tactics. My google search of alternative options produced this: “wear shoes which you can run in if necessary”. Um, I LEFT THE COMBINATION OF JEANS AND JOGGERS IN THE FIFTH GRADE WHERE THEY BELONG. Naturally, I quizzed some fellow university girls about their experience of walking home. Hannah, 22, from RMIT University had the same story to tell:

“I have to drive to a train station in a questionable neighbourhood to park within walking distance of the station, and even then it’s a ten-minute walk from my car in the dark. I’m always scared for my safety but I don’t really have any other options.”

I asked another: Emma, 20, from Monash. The answer was astounding:

“Every time I walk to the station I physically fear for my life because every dark alley just makes my fear even worse. I try to avoid going places by myself after dark if I can’t drive because I just can’t stand that feeling.”

Yep, women are literally sacrificing social interaction for fear of a 500m walk.

So is this a gendered issue? Well, at a very base level, if every woman had a dollar for the amount of times they’ve heard “hey pretty” or “damn girl” when walking past a man alone, we’d all drive Land Rovers and watch Ryan Reynolds movies for a living. Do men experience the same discomfort? I asked James, 19, University of Melbourne, who had a fairly laid back attitude toward the whole affair:

“Nope, I haven’t experienced it. As males I don’t think we often feel the need to worry about that stuff.”

That sounds nice. It also answers my question: yes, your gender affects your perceived or real level of safety in public spaces. 

Thankfully, the Victorian Government recently allocated $1.9b of its budget to implementing the recommendations from last year’s Royal Commission into Family Violence. This will include efforts to address gender inequality, a known driver of violence against women. In time, these efforts will hopefully change men's attitudes and behaviours and lead to a safer street environment for young women. But there are also things that can be done to improve our safety now. 

So, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, what can you do to help us out? Well, while achieving societal gender equality buoyed by a culture of human respect is most certainly the end game here, there are intermediary actions that could be taken:

a)    Expand the public transport network and improve affordability so people do not have to walk so far from public transport destinations to their homes.

b)   Increase affordable parking spaces near train stations, particularly in highly populated areas, or introduce bus services to transport passengers from train stations to nearby parking spaces. Preferably one that doesn’t require you to mortgage your house for every hour that your car is there, because nobody has time for that.

c)     Increase the lighting in Melbourne walkways and streets, and look at other innovative measure to create safer urban environments. 

d)    Ensure that women and girls play a leading role in urban planning, development and implementation at all levels so that our unique needs are met. 

e)    Finally, please take the issue seriously. Creating safe space for all members of our community will take a holistic approach.

In the meantime Uber, if you’d like to send me a thank you for my business, my favourite chocolate is the 70% dark stuff.