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Risk and the Design of Public Space: Implications for Local Governments

PAM, Vol. 12 No. 4, (2007)

Risk has become a prominent feature of our society. Changes in legislation, media coverage, and public attitudes have resulted in greater awareness of risk, and a propensity to litigation arising from personal injury claims. This article examines whether and how changing attitudes to risk in the UK impact on the design of public spaces, reducing the quality of streets, squares, and parks, and draws implications for local government. The research design involved elite stakeholder interviews and case studies, two of which are reported here. The analysis reveals that risk aversion and the compensation culture are powerful forces. However, there is evidence that strong leadership by key actors – especially local government politicians, urban design professionals, risk managers, and the insurance industry – can mitigate its impact. Knowledge of local government’s legal responsibilities for public space and case law, together with creative public space maintenance regimes, provide important resources against risk averse design and liability claims.

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