Can denser cities prevent rape?

Recently, City Lab (formerly Atlantic Cities) published an article with a very interesting hypothesis: how better land use in India’s large cities can help tackle that country’s rape problem, which is fast taking the proportions of an epidemic. The author, Neil Padukone, argued that Indian cities, particularly Delhi, were designed according to the single-use planning pattern which lends itself to give birth to sprawling cities with large swaths of unpopulated land. These swaths, he feels, make Indian cities so unsafe because they are isolated areas where all kinds of crimes can be committed with some degree of certainty of impunity.

Single-use land design means that a city’s districts are drawn along lines of use, so that a residential area is completely separate from a shopping area. This pattern appeared to dominate land use in large western cities after World War II. However, in the 1990s, the US began to warm up to the idea of mixed-use land planning. Residential areas were no longer just that and began to include options for shopping, eating etc. – basically everything that you needed was walking distance or a relatively short commute away.

Mixed-use design, Padukone argues, would be an effective solution to secure the streets of these sprawling Indian cities. He concludes that with mixed use, and thus constant hustle-bustle, there will always be a set of eyes on the street which would ensure better security.

While that idea holds some merit (mostly for original thought), claiming that better land use in cities can improve safety for women, and residents in general, is a bit of a stretch. Even Padukone’s own argument that more pairs of eyes would mean more security seems like an unlikely conclusion, and certainly not a good solution.

As a South Asian woman myself, I can testify to the fact that there are way too many eyes on me everywhere I go as it is, and it does not secure me. If anything, I would be inclined to believe that that pair of eyes is more an enabler of sexual violence against women than a barrier to it. People stare at a woman who is out on the street as a pastime in countries like ours. More shockingly, violence doesn’t tend to move people into action because when a man is molesting a woman on the street, most people want to ignore it. All of a sudden, for societies as nosy as ours, the sanctity of a person’s right to privacy becomes paramount. On Twitter, when the #YesAllWomen hashtag was trending, an American woman tweeted that when she was in college, a police officer told women to yell “Fire!” in case they found themselves in a violent situation because that tends to mobilize people more than a woman screaming for help.

Secondly, looking at rape as something that happens only, or even mostly, in less crowded and isolated places is an incorrect assumption to make. The Delhi rape case of 2012 didn’t happen in an isolated place, it didn’t happen in a place at all – it happened in a moving bus that the victim sat on willingly because she believed it to be a public transit vehicle. Since then, I have come across at least three more stories, two in India and one in Pakistan, of a woman being raped in a car. That’s a spot that no style of urban planning could have secured. That’s a spot that nobody could have secured, except the people in the vehicle who were the root cause of the problem.

It is important to understand that rape is not a “crime” the way that car-snatching is. Rape is a social problem, one that is bred, supported, and perpetuated by constituents of a society. It is not done because some thuggish men wanted to make some extra cash by selling off a stolen phone, it is committed because in our patriarchal societies can and do justify violence against women.

Making cities more dense will do little, if anything at all, to help tackle rape in India or elsewhere. Only gross misunderstanding of the culture of rape, and that rape is only committed in the streets, would lead one to make such a conclusion. It happens in college campuses, office rooms, bathrooms, and even bedrooms between intimate partners. In fact, two-thirds of rape offenses are committed by someone that the victim knows, not someone who randomly assaults her on the street.

The only way to tackle rape is to fix the mysoginist attitudes towards women which stop people from speaking up and coming to a victim’s defence. If denser cities can bring that about, then by all means let’s go for it. If not, then single-use, mixed-use or no use at all is of little importance to the issue of women’s safety.

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5 thoughts on “Can denser cities prevent rape?

  1. You are spot on. The denser or isolated areas of cities do not make difference, esp in South Asian culture. We need to work on male supremacist/misogynist attitude and mentality.

  2. A good read, albeit I agree with most of what you have said, but to say rape is not a “crime” like snatching is wrong. Yes it is a social problem like all crimes are which are being indirectly nourished by our actions as a society. Statistically speaking rape cases in this part of world are far lower when compared with developed countries (considering our population density), whom we consider as ideals. Yet one might rightly argue that actual numbers are far higher than the so called reported cases but in defense the same is true for those countries although for different reasons. This argument by no means justifies this terrible crime, these are just plain facts.

    To say that rape is bred and harbored in our society is terribly wrong as I have yet to come across any individual/sect/social gathering with/without education which promotes this heinous act, on the contrary i am in support of the view that we do promote terrorism, we encourage judgmental thinking and we as a society breed intolerance towards those who are of different opinion. These mentioned acts promote all types of crimes, and rape happens to be one of them. This tribal stigma that prevails (imo) is the root of all evil. Unless we promote and preach tolerance in every social standing, and avoid judging others, understand and accept religious, social and political differences we might not be able to stop such crimes. Another huge factor that nourishes these acts is the proven failure of our justice and crime control departments.

    I believe that identifying rape as a crime that is specifically targeted at women for the sake of terrorizing women is a wrong conclusion. Yes the victims are all women, but then again cars are only snatched from the vehicle owners.

    • Thanks for your very detailed comment.

      Firstly, you have assumed that I am comparing rape incidence in developing versus developed countries, which are ideals (also an assumption). I am not. That comparison is ridiculous to me, because even if the numbers in developed countries are higher, it doesn’t change the fact that rape is a problem in developing countries. My blog is about city planning, a concept as relevant to developed as to developing countries.

      Secondly, the victims of rape are not all women. Also, the conclusion that you have drawn is also incorrect, since I do not make that claim anywhere in the blog. However, if you think that rape is not used as a tool to terrorize women specifically, you would well-advised to read the papers and follow rape incidents to see what rapists were trying to achieve in a vast majority of the cases.

      Thirdly, I am not sure what you’re disagreeing with. You and I are saying that same thing. From your comment: “To say that rape is bred and harbored in our society is terribly wrong as I have yet to come across any individual/sect/social gathering with/without education which promotes this heinous act, on the contrary i am in support of the view that we do promote terrorism, we encourage judgmental thinking and we as a society breed intolerance towards those who are of different opinion. These mentioned acts promote all types of crimes, and rape happens to be one of them.” If you add misogyny and discriminatory attitudes against women to that list, you and I would be saying exactly the same thing.

      Once again, thank you very much for reading and for engaging. I hope you continue to visit.

      Best,
      Zainab.

  3. Yes true, we are both condemning this crime, and that was stated in the first line of my reply. “I agree with most of what you have said”, and yes your piece is about merits/demerits of countering rape via denser city planning, which you have rightly countered.
    What I disagree with is “Rape is a social problem, one that is bred, supported, and perpetuated by constituents of a society. It is not done because some thuggish men wanted to make some extra cash by selling off a stolen phone, it is committed because in our patriarchal societies can and do justify violence against women.”
    I deliberately didn’t add misogyny as I don’t think that there is any considerable evidence to suggest hating of the women specie by any faction/sect/portion of Pakistani society, I do realize that sexual discrimination is at play at various levels of corporate and social structure but that does not indicate hatred towards women, that I would characterize as stereotyping. And to further stress my point i would say that your article reflects a typical misandry attitude by playing the victim.
    As I stated before, our practices as a society promote violence and intolerance of all sorts, not just the one under discussion. As an example consider the 914 sectarian violence cases (http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/pakistan/database/sect-killing.htm) against 200 rape cases(http://labs.tribune.com.pk/rape-report-2013/ ) in 2013. You will find the same trend with any other brand of crime, and once again I strongly agree that even these figures are gloomy and yes, we need a solution to this dilemma. But in order to find a solution we first should identify the causes, psychology patterns, and motives behind these acts.
    And your article and reply suggests that it is done knowingly to victimize women, and above all you further assume that it is being promoted in our culture.
    It would be the lowest of lows for a community where this attitude specifically against women is nurtured. And in my opinion this is not the case. Of course there are cases where you might be right, but when considering a social phenomena majority of these acts are pure violence for self gratification(equatable to making extra cash by selling stolen good), with disregard to pain and suffering caused to victim, terrorizing and ruining their lives. There is no hidden agenda or bigger plan against women, this is an evil which must be countered by teaching control, tolerance, and harmony.

    I appreciate your reply, and for validating my argument.
    Cheers,
    Crabman

    • You don’t think there is misogyny because you are not a woman who faces it every day. You speak from a position of privilege.

      It was good to engage, and I hope you continue reading.

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