Is ‘terror-proofing’ cities the next challenge facing urban planners and designers?

By Julia Moiso.

Source: BBC

The latest unfortunate terror attack in London is the fifth high-profile urban attack in eight months by an assailant who has used a vehicle as a deadly weapon, and comes two months after Melbourne experienced the same horror. Across recent media, terror experts have claimed that the latest London attack is the most recent example of a dangerous emerging terror trend in which an everyday object (such as  a motor vehicle) instead becomes a shocking weapon.

This highlights the dangerous and alarming fact that humans and vehicles are in an entirely different leagues, as vehicles were created to be a motorised ‘bigger and better’ mode of transport anda source of power and force that humans simply cannot compete with. A mechanical concept that has evidently has been abused by people in order to cause harm and terror.

The question arises: does this bring about a new wave of challenges for the modern urban planner? If cities are designed so that people and vehicles synonymously co-exist, how do we plan such for a contingency when there is a harmful disturbance of this coexistence?

In the past, increased CCTV and additional police surveillance have typically been adopted by authorities, but this often ’fuels the fire’ as it is a known motive that people who cause terror are drawn to busy pedestrianised areas in order to create the most impact.

So does it come down to the physical context of cities? With the rise in demand for cities to produce quality public spaces, should additional urban design provisions (beyond bollards) or smart technology systems be sought as a measure to prevent vehicles from being able to come within close proximity to public spaces? 

Perhaps more consideration should be given to revolutionising the way that transport functions within inner cities. Barcelona, for example, is considered one of the smartest cities in the world and the contrast between the historic built form and the new age built form within Barcelona works in perfect harmony. With extensive bike paths segregating the road from the footpath, old gothic streets that cannot foster vehicle travel and large public squares eliminates many opportunities for vehicles to impede on public space.

It is important to note that there will always be a margin for error in the way that cities are built, function and operate. But by adhering to good quality and successful urban design in metropolitan areas, perhaps such threats can be minimised and we can begin to minimise the frequency of urban terror attacks.

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