street safety and confidence

Safety and Confidence in the Public Realm

Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse

Psychologist Nigel Latta (at the walking and cycling conference in Hastings this week) brought up the ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ in his talk about kids being active. It turns out learning how to deal with a zombie takeover is much like learning how to handle ’stranger danger’ and traffic.

Parents need to teach kids how to make good decisions when walking or cycling to school. To be prepared, kids need to be running fit, they need to be alert to ‘lurchy’ people, and, if it really comes down to it, they need to know it takes ‘two shots to the head’.

Children learn how to have the right ‘road side manner’ if they get to experience walking and cycling to school. They grow up to become better drivers and they are also more likely to be healthy, active adults because they know how fun it can be to go out and explore under ones ‘own steam’ and management (long before learning to drive a car).

teens walking to town

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Adults also benefit from a bit of zombie watchfulness in their day to day use of the streets. There is a lot said in safety campaigns on being alert and visible to traffic. But having a zombie plan sounds particularly useful for late night or peculiar journeys.

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Fear

There are a lot of messages pushing fear of the outside world on people; on kids (parents), the elderly and women in particular. My fellow ‘vulnerable users’ of street space. However, the risks are much lower than we might assume from reading the papers (check out police statistics, road safety statistics and health statistics: sedentary lifestyles are far more dangerous.) Both kids and adults need to spend time outside to learn how to manage risk, to learn how to make good decisions and look after themselves.

I have done quite a lot of evening walks (including bus and train trips), making the most of where I live in the city (see Art in the Dark image below), and I’ve come up with a number of small actions to combat fear of the streets at night. The guidelines I tend to use myself are pretty similar to what we tell tell kids. Let someone know where you are. Be alert to who and what is around you (not drunk), use your ears to hear what is going on around you (traffic and people rather than your ipod bubble), take note of what is visible of the space you are in (and what is not visible), take note of where you could run for cover, be prepared to move quickly (shoes, ladies), avoid ‘lurchers’, and have some idea of how you might defend yourself in an emergency. As a result I feel like I ‘own’ the streets as much as anyone else.

Women’s studies writer Inga Muscio influenced how I think about walking home in the dark. Most notable for me was Inga’s proactive approach as a female traveller at night: do what you need to do, but take precautions.

In particular I make use of her advice to tell people what you are doing – tell your flatmate where you are going, send a text, or make a quick phone call to let people know you got in safe at night. This is a tactic I’ve used quite a lot. Even just mentioning you are, say, catching a bus, sets up an expectation for the people you are with to care about your journey, and gives you all the chance to reassess how you are going to get to the bus stop in the current light. Besides the fact that it is reassuring to talk about your travel choices, it can be kind of fun to share your adventures with people back at the party/venue, or with friends travelling home in other directions via text. It’s an extension of the safety messages from the police, which pop up on billboards sometimes: watch out for your mates when out on the town.

Confidence in public space, means balancing a realistic assessment of risk with sensible preparation, and knowing your capabilities.

Returning to the zombies: there is always a risk but we don’t need to be unprepared. Exercise along with well judged, careful exploration of the opportunities and resources of street space, over time, during the day and night, in any condition, is part of planning for the future apocalypse. So keep walking and cycling people!

 Art in the Dark

For more info

The original zombies site is a brilliant use of pop culture in social marketing for health and civil defence.

Inga Muscio suggests some simple acts of preparedness in her book along with a whole host of other issues affecting the lives of women. It’s an entertaining story of everyday health and survival.

Art in the Dark is a night time art event in Western Park, Ponsonby, Auckland. This image is from 2011. (I can’t work out which artist it is from the map but there are…) more details on their website: www.artinthedark.co.nz
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I expect plenty of other people who walk and cycle have come up with their own unique street ’survival tactics’. Feel free to share below.


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