The University of Westminster and the global engineering and design firm Arup have published a new report today exploring the relationship between queer communities and public spaces.

Two women sat on ledge overlooking sunset in London
Credit: Unsplash

The report, entitled ‘Queering Public Space’, calls for an urgent rethink of how towns and cities are designed and provides recommendations for how they can be made more inclusive for all. It comes after recent research from Galop and Stonewall found that 50% of the British public recognise that LGBTQ+ people change their behaviour in public space to avoid hostile targeting, while trans people avoid certain areas altogether. 

Despite the emergence of queer enclaves, known as ‘gaybourhoods’, in many cities around the world, report authors Professor Pippa Catterall and Dr Ammar Azzouz argue that inclusivity and inclusive design needs to go far beyond this. 

Their findings conclude that a fresh approach to planning, licensing and design is needed to mark and celebrate queer heritage in the public realm. LGBTQ+ heritage must be highlighted and preserved to ensure people understand the rich history of LGBTQ+ experiences and communities. This may help undermine the hostility and misunderstanding which continues to be widely expressed towards these groups.

They also said that inclusive design should contribute to the desistance of hate crime and promote the inclusion of marginalised and disempowered groups in public space. Professor Catterall and Dr Azzouz suggest attention to the scale and mass of buildings, lighting features, colours and facades and the addition of curvilinear aspects are amongst the design techniques that can help achieve this objective.

LGBTQ+ inclusion and safety in public space should also be incorporated into devices like equality impact assessments as a requirement, particularly when there is a loss of amenities for them in the planning application process. Designers should consult with marginalised communities when planning and designing spaces, involving them in the process to better understand their challenges and needs. By addressing these recommendations and designing in diversity, the report argues that public spaces will be more accessible to all marginalised and disempowered groups, creating inclusive and welcoming spaces for all.

Professor Pippa Catterall, Professor of History and Policy at the University of Westminster and co-research lead, said: “Far too much public space in our cities is exclusive rather than inclusive and often unsafe for various groups of people, particularly after dark. Our argument is that different approaches to planning, licencing and design can change this and make these spaces more inclusive and welcoming for all, day or night. That way public space could truly become safer and inclusive for all members of the public.”

Dr Ammar Azzouz, short-term Research Associate at the University of Oxford and Architect at Arup, added: “The cities we live in are made of layers of history and memory. Through cultural heritage sites, memorials, statues, streets’ and buildings’ names, we read the story of our cities spatially. But often, the history and struggle of queer communities is absent from this story. We need to break this silence and to face this absence with innovative and creative ways to make our cities more inclusive”

Funding was awarded to Professor Pippa Catterall from the University of Westminster and Dr Ammar Azzouz by Arup to undertake the research and create a supporting video which outlines the report’s findings. 

Read the full report on the Arup website.

Watch the supporting video to the report on YouTube.

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