FOSS4G 2023 academic track

SafoMeter - Assessing Safety in Public Spaces: The urban area of Prishtina
06-29, 12:00–12:30 (Europe/Tirane), UBT E / N209 - Floor 3

As cities expose people to increasing threats, urban planning perspectives on safety remain on the periphery of urban design and policy. Public spaces cause different emotions in individuals, and the feeling of safety is the primary emotion that affects their well-being and behavior (Pánek, Pászto, & Marek, 2017). For this reason, an urban planning strategy should pay special attention to providing a safe environment, especially in public spaces.

Negotiating with the use of public spaces poses a more significant challenge for marginalized groups, especially for women in every social group for whom sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence in public areas are a daily occurrence in every city worldwide (UN Women, 2021). Nonetheless, there is a very limited amount of data that showcases the level of safety of site-specific public spaces, especially for cities in developing countries like Kosovo.

In this regard, aiming to contribute to the effort for developing a methodology for assessing site-specific safety in public space, we have developed SafoMeter. SafoMeter is a methodological framework for assessing safety in public spaces and their spatial distribution. SafoMeter's approach adheres to a human-centered approach that analyzes public spaces by looking closely at people's everyday experiences. Its framework is built by mediating indicators that assess both objective safety and subjective perceptions of safety.

The objective indicators for measuring safety fall into two broad categories: urban fabric and accessibility. Research on the relationship between the built environment and perceived safety highlights several physical components attributed to feelings of safety (UN-Habitat, 2020). In addition, spatial criteria/features used in previous research include urban structure and accessibility as two broad categories of spatial elements that positively or negatively affect people's sense of safety (Wojnarowska, 2016).

The subjective indicators for measuring emotional safety fall into the categories of threats and comfort. Contrary to conventional methods, the framework highlights the necessity for collecting data from the individual evaluation of perceived safety. Subjective evaluations of the users of public spaces are considered very important due to the low correlation between objective safety and subjective assessment of one's well-being, as shown in previous research (Von Wirth, Grêt-Regamey & Stauffacher, 2014).

The pilot location used for applying SafoMeter’s methodology to measure safety in public spaces was the urban area of Prishtina. The official population of the Municipality of Prishtina is about 200,000 inhabitants, of which almost 150,000 live in the city area. Being the capital city of Kosovo, the Municipality of Prishtina is the central city of significant political, economic, and social developments in the country.

The data for each indicator of the SafoMeter methodology were collected for a period of three months (July, August, and September 2022) at different hours during the day. Mergin Maps application was used via mobile phone to collect the field data recording both objective and subjective indicators. The data collection project was developed in QGIS, version 3.22.12 LTR, including 8 layers, one for each indicator. A hexagonal grid of 0.86 ha was used to aggregate data into a Safety Index. Furthermore, the results of the Safety Index were calculated and visualized via QGIS. A particular focus was drawn to visualizing unsafe hotspots in the city and showcasing their spatial distribution to inform citizens and decision-makers about spaces that need more urgent intervention.

For the Safety index with a scale from 0 (least safe) to 10 (most safe), all spaces evaluated in the study area result below half or with a maximum value of 5.57. Therefore, it can be concluded that the indicators measured in Prishtina point to an urgency for intervention, both in physical infrastructure and in terms of improving safety that comes as a threat from the human factor. Additionally, besides being very few, the areas considered safer within the city are not connected to each other, not allowing users to move safely from one place to another. Parks or green spaces, which are scarce spaces in Pristina, turn out to be amongst the main hotspots with the lowest score.

Applying the SafoMeter methodology generated valuable insights for assessing safety in the public spaces of Prishtina. The results of the pilot study reveal an urgent need for intervention. These findings suggest that policymakers and urban planners should prioritize the creation of safer public spaces in Prishtina and other cities facing similar challenges.

At the same time, a systematic safety assessment requires systematic year-round data collection processes to design effective area-based interventions and policies. Therefore, a more detailed, further data collection process should be established. In addition, this process should aim at increasing the number of participating citizens in evaluating the safety indicators. All the data collected via the SafoMeter framework will be published via a web-based platform where different user groups can use them. Finally, via SafoMeter, we aimed to provide a tool that can be replicated for further studies by other users shared according to the principles of open-source knowledge.

Gresa Neziri is an architect and urban planner focused on spatial data analysis.
She finished her MSc studies for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation at ITC, University of Twente, The Netherlands.
Gresa has worked for more than 7 years in spatial planning documents, consulting for municipalities in Kosovo, both through the private sector and UN agencies. She is the co-founder and Executive Director of SpaceSyntaKs, an institute for spatial and urban research. She has coordinated projects researching safety in public spaces, measures to mitigate climate change by lowering energy consumption, and walkability mapping in cities. Moreover, she organized various training courses on fieldwork data collection, data analysis and visualization using open GIS technology. Gresa continuously volunteers as a mentor for youth programs and hackathons in Europe and Africa.