Sara Smith 01 November 2016

How street furniture can discourage antisocial behaviour

You’ll frequently read about how engineering might make the world a better place. Whether it’s through engineering medical devices for improved quality of life, or through honing the vibration monitoring process to make renewable technologies more efficient and reliable, it seems that not a day goes by without an innovation that serves to make the world a better place.

But engineering is also capable of making the sort of improvements that, while not exactly world-shaking, can nonetheless serve to make people feel calmer, happier, and safer in their day to day lives.

Street furniture is more important than you think

Let’s talk about street furniture. It’s something that most people take for granted, and with good reason – it’s usually designed to be unobtrusive and purely functional. But whether you realise it or not, street furniture contributes to the character, appearance, and perception of a location. So when street furniture is subjected to vandalism or other antisocial behaviour, it can change the entire perception of an area, making people feel more unsafe and on edge, even when that’s not necessarily the case.

But with a few clever design and engineering techniques, street furniture can serve to actively discourage antisocial behaviour.

Location is key

When street furniture is placed in neglected and out of the way areas, it appears to invite vandalism and antisocial behaviour. But if it’s been planned as part of a coordinated project, it can blend seamlessly with the environment, creating the sort of attractive public space where people will actually want to spend time.

The trick is to avoid large blank spaces and secluded areas, and to instead attempt to create an area that inspires a sense of place and community. For when people are actively encouraged to make use of an area, there’s less danger of the space falling into neglect, disrepair, decay, and vandalism.

In fact, visually pleasing solutions that enhance a public space can be even more effective at preventing antisocial behaviour than unsightly fences, gates, and security cameras.

Material world

But so far we’ve talked about subtle town planning techniques. And as effective as this can be, the physical design and construction of street furniture can also do much to deter vandalism and antisocial behaviour – or at the very least, to make recovery fast and affordable should vandals ever strike.

It’s important to choose the correct material. Certain materials are more resistant to attacks, and studies show that higher quality materials and finishes receive the least amount of vandalism.

When placing street furniture in vulnerable areas, high grade 316 stainless steel is the best material to use. It can be cleaned without causing significant damage to the finish, so it will retain its sheen even after years of hard use. And of course, when placing street furniture in high risk areas, there are certain materials that should be avoided. It’s particularly important to take care when designing litter bins. Timber and recycled plastic probably isn’t a good idea, as it’s prone to fire damage. But concrete and, again, stainless steel is durable, rust-resistant, and remarkably easy to clean.

Prevention & cure

When street furniture is vandalised, it can feel like a permanent scar. People see a vandalised bench, or an immolated bin, and they start to feel like they’re passing through a no-go area.

It may never be possible to remove the problem completely. But with a bit of careful design and intelligent engineering, it’s possible to provide both a prevention and a cure to the problem of vandalism and antisocial behaviour. The strategic positioning of street furniture can discourage antisocial behaviour, while certain materials and constructions can make recovery both swift and affordable should vandalism occur.

The end result is an area that encourages community, a thriving outdoor space that encourages participation and an overall more positive experience for everyone.

It’s a great example of the subtle yet resounding difference that good design and engineering can make for a community.

Sara Smith is SEO and content editor at Broxap

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