Designs on crime

Kings Cross image supplied by Designing Out Crime

Kings Cross image supplied by Designing Out Crime

In summary: 
  • The Designing Out Crime Research Centre is working to change the face of King's Cross via its Winter School program
  • Some of the students' recommendations have already been taken in by the council, including the four-week trial of the open-air urinals - Pissoirs

Shuttle buses, temporary toilets and extendable footpaths are heralding a new era in crime prevention. These and other innovative ideas, developed by students during the Designing Out Crime Research Centre’s (DOC) Winter Schools, are changing the face of one of Sydney’s most notorious hotspots.

Kings Cross, Sunday, 1am: 5800 revellers line Darlinghurst Road queuing to get into clubs, waiting for friends or grabbing a bite to eat. Despite the last train leaving in 44 minutes, few are heading home – the night has just begun.

While many Sydneysiders consider the Cross to be ‘party central’, residents and authorities are acutely aware of its more sinister side – and not just that of Underbelly fame. Alcohol-related assault, anti-social behaviour and public urination are all key concerns.

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research figures show, in 2008, Kings Cross accounted for 16 per cent of all reported alcohol-related assaults in the Sydney Local Government Area. The peak times, when up to 22 per cent of altercations occur, are between midnight and 6am on Saturdays and Sundays.

DOC Business Manager Douglas Tomkin says it was statistics like these that, two years ago, spurred collaboration between the City of Sydney and UTS.

Rodger Watson and Douglas Tomkin, photo by Fiona LivyRodger Watson and Douglas Tomkin, photo by Fiona Livy

“We got together and went through a number of different areas they were concerned about; this included laneways and other less attractive areas like Taylor Square, Oxford Street and the Cross. They were particularly concerned with alcohol-related crimes or anti-social behaviour, so we had a really good discussion about what those issues actually were, and from that, devised a brief for the students.”

The brief formed the basis of a project undertaken during the centre’s 2009 and 2010 Winter Schools. The intensive subject, run over three to five weeks, includes lectures, independent research, team work and a presentation to stakeholders.

Tomkin says, “The aim is for students to try to reframe the problem. We call it reframing because if you treat it in the conventional way, you tend to look at ways of defeating the problem – you might say we need more laws against drinking, or we need more police presence. We look at it differently.”

In a bid to develop more creative solutions, students were divided into groups of five and tasked with researching and remedying a specific issue.

“There were 25 students looking at Kings Cross as a whole, and then within that, some of them were looking at problems of congestion around clubs, while others were looking at services like toilets,” he says.

“The key breakthrough came when we discovered there are 30 000 visitors every Friday and Saturday night, so it’s really like an event. When we looked at the problems there – like trains and buses stopping at one o’clock, which is exactly when they all arrive – it really helped everyone to re-think the issue.”

Already, some of the students’ recommendations have been implemented by the council. Laneway lighting suggestions were installed during last year’s Vivid Sydney festival, a late-night shuttle bus has begun running between Kings Cross and the Nightrider bus depot at Town Hall station, and in April, a four-week trial of temporary open-air urinals – or Pissoirs – occurred in a bid to curb public urination.

The next step is to engage all community stakeholders – including the City of Sydney, Kings Cross Police, St Vincent’s Hospital, club owners and taxi drivers – by packaging the students’ ideas into a comprehensive crime prevention strategy.

Centre Manager Rodger Watson is the key liaison between UTS, industry and the NSW Department of Attorney General & Justice who sponsor the centre. He has been overseeing the development of a digital, 3D fly-through.

“We’re using sophisticated 3D programs to illustrate the issues and what the solutions might look like,” he says. “So one of the interventions students came up with was an innovative design to extend the footpath and get rid of the gutter so people don’t trip.

“The idea there, especially in a place where you’ve got 5800 people walking past, is to increase the room and reduce the chance of people bumping into each other and getting into a fight. Another idea was having free water and toilets available.”

DOC Research Assistant Jessica Wong – an industrial design graduate who participated in the 2010 Winter School – is one of the team members bringing the ideas to life.

“We’ve been extrapolating images and details of Kings Cross into a 3D computer model of Darlinghurst Road,” she says.

“After adding multiple layers of detail, we’ve applied the designs of the DOC team into the model to help us communicate different elements to the various stakeholders.”

Watson and Tomkin hope the fly-through will make implementation and assessment easier.

“Really, you need a simultaneous research project which is looking at the before and after – what works, what might work. It’s a perfect PhD study,” says Tomkin.

That’s why they’re now looking to recruit Masters by Research and PhD students to work with the centre (applications close in October).

While the Winter School has previously been open only to design students, the cross-disciplinary nature of their work means there’s potential for students in every faculty to get involved.

Wong says, “University jobs bridge the gap between academic tuition and professional practise and allow industry contacts to be established.
“The Winter School allows students to fully immerse themselves within the design process without being distracted by other projects. Working in the DOC office has then reinforced the professional skills I learnt in my course and how they’re applied in the real world.”

Watson says there are benefits for industry too. “For stakeholders it gives them the freedom to be removed, somewhat, from the day-to-day situation and to be involved in a creative thought process that might come up with ideas they never could have.”

He says, “Design has a place in crime prevention because there are three players: the offender, the victim and the environment. Environmental design or product design can be used to reduce the opportunities for crime.

“What we’re trying to do is enhance the use of the space, enhance the experience of the users and make it difficult for the abusers.”

Tomkin adds, “By reducing the opportunity for crime you can really have a positive, lasting effect.”

Technology and Design