Perceptions of safety in our case study area – A student perspective

By Chloe Lau + Winnie Liu

Even though Collingwood is only 3 km away from Melbourne CBD, it is a suburb which is claimed to be economically diverse and is facing issues with prevalence of illicit drug use among the local community with high risks of drug overdosing.

“I hope this community can be safer, perhaps through installing more CCTVs in the area. This is so that the lives of residents here can be well protected” said one of the local resident in Collingwood while expressing his concerns with us during our site visit in the area.

From our experience, such safety concerns together with the perceived risks of becoming a victim of drug users’ anti-social behaviours in public area are not without grounds. We could not help but feel unsafe and uneasy while we walked into a few back-alleys that are the drug hotspots. The sight of needle syringes in the public area shook us up as we quickly associated this with other crimes including gang activities.

We started to believe that Collingwood need to be renewed into a place where drug activities are largely absent with other well-behaved community members using the parklets instead. Despite acknowledging that drug users would then be evicted, we were more convinced in other people having rights to feel safe and fully engage with public areas where anti-social behaviour is largely absent. The thought of including drug users in creating an inclusive or vibrant public place did not occur to us due to its illegal nature.

However, after several discussions in class, we soon realized urban renewal utilising social contracts or laws to evict the ‘undesirables’ in public places resulting in place-masking instead of genuine place-making. Given the ultimate goal in Studio D is to create an inclusive public space that is accessible for all, the question of how to ensure co-existence of different groups in the urban environment via balancing their competing rights should be the main focus.

Inclusive public places should be places that attract and allow people regardless of age, race, lifestyle or health. Hence, we need to consider how to meet the needs of different cohorts in the community including that of drug users. The conflicts of interest among the diverse, segregated community become apparent when their desires seem to be contradicting one another (i.e. the right of non drug users to feel/be safe vs drug users right to the city) but it is not impossible to find a balance between them. This can be seen in the establishment of safe injecting room which recognises the rights of drug users by creating a safer urban environment for them, while ensuring a more child-friendly surrounding for the children in the area.

The tensions between different societal groups can often be complex and without one definitive answer. It is nonetheless the role of social planners to come up with best alternative, to find the balance between competing rights in urban environment.

Clean syringes vending machine targeting drug users.

Needle syringes found in one of the back alleys


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