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Fainting-couch urbanism and the architecture of fear

By Riley Flanigan - posted Thursday, 3 August 2017


In the wake of yet another terrorist attack, the talking heads of architecture have once again begun hand-wringing about rethinking cities and buildings to counteract terrorism.

Writing in The Conversation, Professor of Architecture Thomas Fisher called for us to "assemble in new ways, aided by digital technology, so we can do so with peace of mind". He argues that while "centralised, hierarchical systems may appear stronger, with more power and efficiency on their side" that this inherently "makes them – and all of us commuting to workplaces like this every day – more vulnerable".

Another author claimed they no longer attended large events, writing that it is now "truly difficult to enjoy yourself, knowing that organised violence could strike at any moment". The author wasn't tearfully scratching out his last words from a foxhole in Afghanistan, these were dispatches from Melbourne, the world's most liveable city.

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If this all sounds a bit overblown, that's because it is.

While the attacks are shocking, statistically they're a drop in the bucket

In the first five months of 2017 there were 534 attacks, resulting in 3633 fatalities globally. The horror of these events consumes our attention while the media fans the flames. After all, if it bleeds, it leads.

But if we take a step back and view terrorism as one of many causes of death, as a threat to our lives it barely registers as a cause for concern.

The list of ways to die in the West that don't involve terrorism is long and mundane. Causes of death that hit more impressive numbers include stairs, bees and vending machines, but we don't see nervously-written articles about how architects need to bee-proof our cities. It's true that a vending machine won't decapitate you for the Caliphate, but if your stomach doesn't tighten every time you buy a Twix, then you might as well buy those concert tickets.

We've got bigger fish to fry

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According to the World Health Organisation, over 3,400 die on the world's roads every day and tens of millions are injured or disabled every year. In America alone, the road death toll is the equivalentof a plane full of people crashing, killing everyone on board, every single day. Even in Israel, where political violence is the norm, the weekly number of deaths never comes close to the number of traffic fatalities.

Easily influenced factors like speed and separated cycle infrastructure have a direct impact on road fatalities and can measurably improve our lives. Reducing these numbers is well within our grasp as most traffic deaths, especially the easily preventable pedestrian deaths, occur on a small proportion of arterial streets.

If you're looking for a worthy cause for designers, this is one of many areas where we can actually make a difference.

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About the Author

Riley Flanigan is an Australian urban designer and freelance writer with an emphasis on finding common threads between urban planning, political, cultural and economic policy matters. Along with blogging at www.theemergent.city he finds creative expression in standup comedy, performing in clubs and bars around Brisbane.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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