‘You just get a vibe’: Spotlight on spaces where women feel least safe

Nia McMartin loves very early morning walks with her dog but in recent years has found herself venturing out at 5am less and less, sadly due to being made to feel unsafe.

“I’ve had McDonald’s [food] thrown at me from a moving car, I’ve had cars slow down behind me to drive slowly behind me while I’ve been walking along a very brightly lit main road,” says Ms McMartin, a health worker and volunteer community radio station manager in the City of Casey.

Nia McMartin hopes the information gathered on the YourGround platform will help councils make outdoor spaces safer for women and gender diverse people.Credit:Justin McManus

“Sometimes you just get a vibe that where you are is not quite right, the older you get, the more in tune you are with those feelings.”

Soon Ms McMartin, and the rest of us, will be able to see the exact locations across the city, suburbs and regional Victoria where women and gender diverse people say they feel most unsafe – and safest – while out running, walking, cycling, doing yoga or chilling in parks.

Victorians can log into the interactive map, YourGround, and drop a pin in any spot about which they would like to leave a safety anecdote as part of a data-gathering project aimed at making public space feel more secure.

Monash University’s gender, design and space research group, the XYX Lab, has partnered with 18 local government areas, Respect Victoria and the digital agency CrowdSpot to crowdsource safety notes from 10,000 people between now and July.

YourGround had a soft launch late last week and 150 people have already contributed stories including remarks about poorly lit underpasses, bike paths with dark sections and many stretches of footpath where they felt uncomfortable.

There are also tributes to “buzzing, good vibes” at some parks, which people say are “welcoming and inclusive no matter if I’m in a group or alone”.

Monash University associate professor Nicole Kalms, a creator of the YourGround project, said the idea sprung from the ways the COVID-19 pandemic changed the ways Victorians engaged with outdoor spaces and recognised the value of recreation and wellbeing.

“We’re hoping the research will give us an understanding of what women and gender diverse people are experiencing and what can be put in place out there to make things better, safer and more equitable,” said Dr Kalms, whose group has translated the YourGround participation information into five languages.

Anthony Aisenberg, of CrowdSpot, which last year crowdsourced information from more than 3000 Melbourne cyclists to create the BikeSpot 2020 cycling safety map, said users of YourGround will be able to chat with each other about shared experiences.

“They get to read other people’s stories and understand the issues are not theirs in isolation, they’re part of a community thinking the same. All of that data will be fed into a report and will show the top safe and unsafe locations across the state, or urban areas of Melbourne,” he said.

Detailed research will be provided to all local councils who have partnered with YourGround to consider planning and design changes to enhance users’ sense of safety.

Ms McMartin will drop her own pins and says she “can’t wait to get my hands on” the information the map will provide.

“For me, the really important part of it is getting the information to the people who design the spaces and who make decisions about how public spaces end up,” she says.

“For the planners and designers to make changes, even if it could be something very small, with the information collated will be really useful to make improvements.”

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