Participatory research, elevating the voices of women and girls in creating welcoming and safe public places

Fairfield City Council, City of Canterbury Bankstown, Cumberland City Council, NSW

Safer Cities: Her Way

Historically, cities have not been planned with the experiences of women and girls in mind, however, it is well understood that engaging with women about their place experiences and needs is crucial for building cities that are inclusive not just for women, but for everyone. Cred was the lead for the Her Way program, conducted in Fairfield City Council, Cumberland City Council and City of Canterbury Bankstown, which seeks to address the barriers that exist for women and girls in accessing and enjoying public spaces. Engaging women and girls in a co-design process brings their place specific and lived experience to the forefront of planning and decision making for these spaces.

Fairfield City Council, Cumberland City Council and City of Canterbury Bankstown were three of ten Councils selected to participate in the NSW Government’s Safer Cities: Her Way Program, which will see up to $1 million investment in each of the Local Government Areas (LGAs) to trial and test initiatives that help improve feelings of safety for women, girls and gender diverse people in public spaces and transport hubs.

The Her Way Program consists of three phases. The first phase is to conduct research to identify the factors that may be contributing to women and girls’ feelings of safety, and through a co-design process, identify ideas for temporary interventions to improve feelings of safety for women and girls (and as a result, safety for everybody) at all times of the day and particularly after dark. The second phase is to implement and trial the temporary interventions that reflect the community’s sense of place to create more appealing and accessible places for women and girls. And finally, the third phase is to conduct an evaluation to assess the effectiveness of interventions to inform future works. Phase 3 will occur mid-2024.

These three western Sydney based Councils engaged Cred Consulting, a female-led team, to design and deliver meaningful place-based participatory research with local women and girls to inform the initiatives to be trialed in each place (phase 1). Cred will also be conducting the evaluation (phase 3) for City of Canterbury Bankstown and Cumberland City Council.

The sites selected for the participatory research were identified by the Councils as higher risk areas in each of the Local Government Areas:

  • Canley Vale precinct, around the Canley Vale Train Station, in the Fairfield LGA
  • Lakemba precinct, around the Lakemba train station, in the City of Canterbury Bankstown LGA, and
  • Westmead, Guildford and Auburn precincts around the respective train stations in the Cumberland LGA.

Co-design workshop with women and girls in the Cumberland LGA. Image source: Honeydieu for Cumberland city council


How we did it

The place-based research activities were developed based on significant research and Cred’s extensive experience engaging with women and girls about feelings of safety.

The design and recruitment to the place-based research activities attracted women and girls from diverse cultural backgrounds and encouraged them to share their insights and ideas to make a tangible impact on feelings of safety in and around the precinct. The women and girls that participated in the program were demographically representative of the communities.

Research and engagement activities varied across each of the Council areas. They included online surveys, workshops with high school girls, on-site night walkshops and co-design workshops/design charrette with independently recruited women and girls, in place pop-ups and a community webinar.

Although Council experts were present at each of the councils co-design phase, we included an expert design team, led by Blix Architecture, a female-led firm, to inform and then develop design concepts based on the design charrette outcomes for the Canley Vale project.

Conducting the participatory research with women and girls has shown that insights become far more nuanced and useful when engaging with people who use a place. Cred led walkshops and co-design sessions that gave all participants the opportunity to share in a safe space their lived experience. Participants often shared deeply personal experiences that reflected on their past experiences of safety in the area.

The outcome

Women and girls told us across the board that they feel less safe in the precincts after dark compared with during the day. They shared that the following elements should be incorporated when designing and delivering public spaces that feel safe, welcoming, comfortable and vibrant:

  • more and different types of lighting to help increase feelings of safety after dark
  • surveillance measures such as CCTV cameras and emergency help points
  • clean and maintained areas
  • temporary activations to encourage people to visit and stay for longer, such as moveable seating, playful spaces, trees and plants and games
  • clear signage and wayfinding to support navigation
  • improved pedestrian safety, including crossings and footpaths, and
  • a variety of seating options.

Women and girls involved in the Her Way Program across the three Council areas told us that they enjoyed participating as they felt they were making a positive impact for their community. Many said they had never done anything like it before and that they felt like they had made new friends by participating.

Involving women and girls in urban development through participatory processes makes cities more inviting for everyone. Women and girls bring a unique perspective and understanding of diversity and different community needs. If we co-design our places and cities with diverse citizens who are experts in their own lives and their local communities, our cities and communities can become more inclusive, equal and welcoming for all.

Walkshop with women and girls in Canley Vale. Image source: Legacy Studios

Related reading

Fairfield City Safer Cities: Her Way Program
Her Way Cumberland
City of Canterbury Bankstown Safer Cities: Her Way Program
Transport for NSW Safer Cities: Her Way

Banner image: Walkshop with women and girls in Guildford
Image source: Karem Nunez for Cumberland City council