GISSA discusses geographers’ roles in creating safer cities

April 4th, 2018, Published in Articles: PositionIT, Featured: PositionIT

The Geo-Information Society of South Africa’s (GISSA) KwaZulu-Natal branch met on 8 March 2018 in Drummond to discuss safe cities and how the geospatial industry can contribute to this in the South African and greater African context.

Two fundamental questions, which are important for geographers and policy makers, are: what makes us feel safe, and how do we measure this?

What makes us feel safe?

Safety is subjective and personal, and influenced by a person’s background, culture, language, where the live and work, and how they commute. For example, a well-lit street could make one person feel safe but another person exposed or like an easy target. This duality bears consideration in new infrastructure investment. Dumisani Makhaye Drive, which connects King Shaka International Airport and Pinetown, might be viewed by some as road infrastructure investment for improved access through public transport and a safer commute. For others it means that criminals have greater reach.

In her presentation, Claudia Ringewaldt from MHP Geospace took delegates back to the drawing board.

Claudia Ringewaldt from MHP Geospace presenting on map scales.

What was clear however, is that safety is a community effort and where urban open spaces provide a clean, well-lit and interactive environment there will likely be a sense of safety and community, and a desire to use the space to socialise. In South Africa, the question is “where have the open spaces in cities and towns gone”? The mass-sprawl of estate living as safe spaces and the saturation of shopping malls have arguably resulted in the dilution of the human interaction.

Measuring safety, and the role of location

Technology can be useful in providing real-time location analytics and is a tool to act quickly, efficiently and professionally against perpetrators of the law, but tools such as surveillance cameras and an increased police presence will require trust in authorities – the lack of which could further contribute to feeling unsafe in these spaces. Crime and crime reporting emerged as key elements during the discussion. Geospatial and analytical tools like Hexagon Smart M.Apps can help process large datasets, but if the recording of the data is generalised (such as recorded at police station level in the SAPS 2017 crime report), then detailed analytics and interventions are not possible.

If crimes are reported where they take place, then geospatial tools can be used to model scenarios to improve an area’s safety. Historic and real-time can help determine whether an increased police presence is needed, when it is needed and for how long. It also translates to efficiency gains when limited resources are available.

General principles and geospatial solutions can help in creating safer cities, as outlined in the World Resources Institute Report. These include:

  • Avoid urban sprawl: Cities that are more compact tend to be safer with easier access to services like public transport and community areas and so on. Geospatial technology plays an integral role in the planning, design and management of urban development.
  • Slow down road traffic: Speed kills and is a real problem in South Africa. Digital speed signs allow the city to slow down traffic as congestion builds up. Traffic cameras can be linked to the real-time speed limits to catch offenders in the act and to issue fines. Real-time network modelling can help achieve this.
  • Make streets safe for pedestrians: Urban areas must be accessible and people-oriented. Making it easy to move around an urban environment, can also improve urban safety. Multi-use streets that promote pedestrian and cycle activity are also encouraged.
  • Dedicated spaces for people: Open spaces are part of the safety aspect that attracts people to gather, socialise and share experiences safely. There is safety in numbers after all.
  • Safe and connected cycle networks: Modern cities are increasingly attracting cyclists. Reducing cars on the roads and making it safe to cycle will attract more users into this space.
  • Safe access to public transport: Citizens must be free to choose their mode of transport, whether it is a metered taxi, a ride-hailing service like Uber or public transport; access to this needs to be safe and easy. Transport nodes and routes make this possible and can be enabled through the IoT and geospatial technologies for monitoring and management.
  • Data driven problem solving: All decision making in digitally transformed organisations need to be data-driven. Using visualisations like hot-spot mapping can facilitate the detection of problem areas and promote better decision making.

Contact Kendall James, GISSA KwaZulu-Natal, kendall.james@hexagongeospatial.com