Streets are spaces where claims for a right to the city are made but also shot down. They are spaces of scrutiny, supervision, and monitoring. Yet, though they speak of fear, there is also a thrill and excitement associated with them. Women, college students, and pedestrians going about their business create a friendly presence in the streets. Social elements create favorable conditions for street activities such as shopping. This leads to the creation of friendly and inclusive streets. According to research, hawkers contribute to making the streets more social. A case in point would be the many booksellers at Hutatma Chowk, Fort. 

Women's safety while occupying public spaces - Sheet1
Hutatma Chowk Booksellers_

Sitting spaces invite more people to linger around in public areas. Therefore, it would be advantageous and pleasant if more streets had such spaces inviting various people to sit, chat and hang out. This would metamorphose the street spaces, opening them up to a myriad of possibilities and a variety of groups, thus making them busier and more friendly.

An Optimum level of crowds | Women’s Safety

Regarding making a space safe for women, a major contributing factor is a certain level of crowds, open shops, and a general perception of activity. A certain level of “crowds” make the space accessible and comfortable for women.

Fewer people make the streets deserted, and women tend to feel unsafe. Conversely, the rush hour would also present a possibility of lecherously pinching, inappropriate touching, or grabbing valuables, so one needs to be careful. The optimum notion indicates that there are enough people to make you feel comfortable but not so many that you are uncomfortable. But the coexistence of strangers may be perceived as a mix of friendly, neutral, or unfriendly. 

The Notion of Unfriendly Spaces

Safety for women has become about clearing the streets of unfavourable citizens considered a threat to women. The desire to be a ‘Global” city is based on eliminating those who do not fit in. Public space is not so much about competition as about being commensurate to be successful. It is not that permission is needed to assess the public area but the civic sense to acknowledge the right of others to that space. Unfriendly spaces may translate to empty streets, enclosed footpaths without escape routes, a lack of toilets, proper transport, or adequate street lighting. The more the number of people on the streets, the safer they are at night.

The freedom of a chaotic street life with new hawkers or hidden spaces that are not in view would be unsafe and not offer any comfort, especially to women.

Safety Walks

These were conducted by a group of people, primarily women, who observed and recorded the physical and social aspects of the area. The project began in June 2012, and 50 walks were conducted across all wards in Mumbai. They covered all zones East, west, north, south, and central streets, all modes of transport, open spaces, and public sanitation facilities. Hundreds of people were trained for these walks. They also participated in the audits. Out of the audited public spaces, women avoided deserted streets and lonely skyways for fear of molestation or stalking. Though crowded, women were weary of subways, station roads, and marketplaces where anonymity made it difficult to catch harassers. There was poor infrastructure, with uneven or broken pavements, poor maintenance of approach roads to stations, and, the worst of them, open drains. To add to the chaos, unorganized and unplanned construction

Working in busy areas meant narrowing road space, overcrowding, and a lack of escape routes. Poor lighting, uneven pavements, deserted areas, male-dominated spaces, lack of women’s toilets, and no visible police presence are the crucial determinants of Mumbai’s perceived lack of safety. Not only does the infrastructure need to improve, but social issues need to be addressed as well.

Open Spaces in India | Women’s Safety

The open spaces in India often do not feature at policy level planning. They are poorly maintained with strict policing with a solid impulse to exclude, not include. Unfortunately, they are seen as an invitation for antisocial activity. Thus, local open spaces are often controlled for use by the set-up of resident associations. 

Comparative Case Studies: Oval Maidan and Shivaji Park

Oval Maidan

The restorative changes have failed to make the space welcoming. Although the aesthetics, overgrowth clearing, well-maintained grounds, beautiful high fence, and carefully chosen light posts have made it successful as a park, it is unable to engage with the city befitting its scale and proportion. The largeness of space is coupled with few benches to prevent loitering, thus limiting the claim. It is also closed at night with the intent of keeping out antisocial elements. The iron grills create a non-porous edge condition separating it from the city rather than connecting it. These conditions make it unsafe for women, with fewer escape routes and the presence of fewer people. 

Women's safety while occupying public spaces - Sheet2
Fencing of Oval Maidan_

Shivaji park | Women’s Safety

The low edge wall demarcates the space of the park without restricting access. The pavement is wide enough for serious walkers as well as random social encounters. Trees along the edge provide shade without blocking the view or access. The Vastness of the space allows multiple users and activities. Although the significant activities are male-dominated, such as football and cricket, the openness and accessibility make for an inclusive design.

Women's safety while occupying public spaces - Sheet3
Low Edge wall_


Akshara centre – NGO for women and children (no date). Available at: 

Phadke, S., Khan, S. and Ranade, S. (2011) Why loiter?: Women and risk on mumbai streets. New Delhi: Penguin Books. 

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Kaira is an architect, artist, writer, and the occasional dancer. Her passion lies in design that promises future generations a better tomorrow. She believes that we can shape a stronger society through our architecture. Her writings are a reflection of these inner thoughts.