The right anti-terror measures mean better urban spaces

Published: 24.08.21

Anti-terrorism measures allow you to achieve far more than just security. They can also be used to create urban spaces that are functional, attractive and more inviting. This, however, requires that the measures are integrated into the urban space rather than simply being something that is added in isolation. 

Anti-terrorism measures have, over the past decade, become one of the parameters that have to be considered when designing urban spaces. They do not have to be synonymous with traffic bollards, concrete blocks or quickly-erected fencing. Anti-terror measures can be so much more discrete and even make for better urban spaces for the benefit of residents and visitors alike.

- We have started using our urban spaces more and are increasingly fitting them out in a way that allows us to spread our wings as a community. This, combined with the terrorist attacks we have seen, means that we have to take anti-terrorism measures into account when designing and planning urban spaces, says Sanne Slot Hansen, an associated partner and MAA landscape architect at Schønherr in Denmark.

Needs to be integrated into urban spaces

As with all the other parameters, such as evacuation, infrastructure, access conditions and climate protection, successful anti-terrorism measures depend upon their integration into urban spaces, instead of simply appearing as an afterthought.

- Anti-terrorism measures in urban spaces can be so well integrated into the design of the urban space that users do not perceive that they are actually anti-terrorism measures. This can support your ambitions for an urban space. Trenches, pits and planted areas can serve as anti-terrorism measures, while at the same time producing greener urban spaces and functioning as climate protection. If you require an urban space with several places to take refuge, you could work with plinths, edges and stairways, which can also serve as protection in a terrorist attack. Anti-terrorism measures can support the function of an urban space, but will only work if you think it into your project as an integrated element, says Sanne Slot Hansen.

There are no legal requirements to consider the need for anti-terrorism measures and its possible layout, which may cause some urban planners to forget about it or not add it into their plans until it is too late.

- A good consultant will ask about this at an early stage of the process, just as they would ask about other project considerations and functions. Changes are expensive to implement if you only become aware of them after the construction phase has already started. When this happens, anti-terrorism measures become an afterthought that uses solutions that are not optimal, or use temporary solutions that end up becoming permanent and are not integrated, Sanne Slot Hansen adds.

Do it with respect

Even though you know what to protect against, it can be difficult to integrate a solution when it comes to securing an existing urban space. One such example might be a city location where incoming vehicles represent a potential threat.

- The solution needs to be implemented out of respect for the location. During the initial phases you should look at how the area is used and how the area could be improved in this respect. A square in the city centre is a site where crowds will typically gather for demonstrations, celebrations and concerts. When protecting against incoming vehicles, you can work with adding green areas to the urban space, for example, such as green belts with trees and plants that vehicles are unable to traverse and which also bring more greenery to the city and can be integrated with climate adaption solutions such as rainwater drainage ditches for rainwater and areas of shade, says Sanne Slot Hansen, continuing:

- You can also work on incoming vehicle access by using chicanes, for example, which can make it harder to accelerate towards a site, while also supporting conditions for soft road users, providing increased refuge and support the site's architectural qualities. If, for example, there are steps at the edge of the site, it would be an obvious solution to raise them a little more.

Security in balance

Easiest of all would be to enclose the space you want to safeguard with concrete or reinforced bollards, but many urban spaces are characterised by being open and cohesive, which is why such a solution would stick out like a sore thumb.

- What is most important is that anti-terrorism measures do not take over the urban space. Planners have to take into account the architecture and style of the area. The worst you could do is just shield the urban space with concrete or reinforced bollards, for example. It may be safe, but it looks terrible. This destroys the urban space and compromises the open urban spaces that are a Danish tradition and which are unique when we look at the rest of the world, says Sanne Slot Hansen, continuing:

- Good anti-terrorism measures are often not just a single, large blocking solution, but several smaller solutions that have been considered together. Anti-terrorism measures must be in balance with the area’s other functions and must not be viewed in isolation, but must be included as part of the overall whole.

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