Notions of (un)safety in public places

In this project, we investigate how people experience feelings of safety and unsafety in public places, where groups of people drink alcohol together, and groups of youngsters hang out in the evening.


The project focuses on a small square in an Aarhus suburb and groups who some consider causing feelings of unsafety; particularly people who congregate to drink alcohol, and a group of youngsters hanging out at the square. We investigate, what it is that creates feelings of safety and unsafety for them, and for other people who pass through or spend time at the square. Hereby, we wish to discuss how we as a society can nuance understandings of what creates feelings of safety in public spaces.


Feelings of safety (DA: Tryghed) has become a central theme in Danish public debate. Feelings of safety in research is assumed to be affected by, among other factors, the presence of other people in public space (“eyes on the street”), the maintenance and condition of buildings and infrastructure (“Broken Window theory”) and the presence or visibility of security guards and/or police as well as architecture and infrastructure. Politicians and citizens often discuss feelings of safety from a generalized perspective on safety. In this perspective, particular types of behavior and particular kinds of people are considered to create “unsafety”. It could be people who are loud, drink alcohol, or use other substances publicly, or who hang around with no visible purpose in streets or squares, homeless people, youngsters in hoodies, et cetera. Authorities, organizations and businesses often attempt to promote safety with signs, surveillance, patrolling of police and/or private security guards, and “hostile” or “dark” design, which is intended to prevent particular types of behavior – like street sleeping, loitering, et cetera.

These types of efforts can, however, cause other forms of unsafety or problematize, limit or bar people from hanging out in or otherwise using public space. Indeed, some research points to the fact that feelings of safety depend on context and vary from person to person and place to place. More knowledge is needed to understand in greater detail how people experience safety and unsafety and perceive what is unsafe, as the generalized notion does not apply for all people in all contexts.

The project

We examine experiences of safety and unsafety through ethnographic fieldwork and interviews with people who work on or around the square, and people who pass by and spend time there for any number of reasons.  

The project runs from August 1 2022 to December 31 2023.


The project is financed by AUFF NOVA.


In the project, we collaborate with the local community workers and the municipality.