Sunday, February 21, 2010

London Underground and the Concept of “Defensible Space”

Over the past few years, London Underground has seen great improvements. And vast sums are being spent on improving it, no doubt in preparation for the Olympics in 2012.

But there has been one very retrograde step – the removal of arm rests between seats on some lines.

Arm rests act not only as arm rests but as aids in defining our territory while we are sitting there. And territoriality is one of the most primitive instincts we have.

Airlines give you better scope to defend your space or be oblivious to it, at a price.

Travellers in steerage have almost no defence and have to fight to define their space on the arm rest, sometimes leading to considerable aggravation.

But for a considerable extra sum, one can travel in business class, where there is far less chance of one’s territory being invaded. Still, the danger exists. I saw two people struggling in business class on a flight from Japan until one of them begged to be seated elsewhere. Unfortunately, the plane was full and he had to endure the misery of having his space invaded for the rest of the long flight.

And for a huge extra sum, one can travel in first class, where the problem does not even arise.

London Underground keep telling us that they are investing vast sums to make our journeys safer, more punctual and pleasanter.

Pleasanter? If they had bothered to read a little about the psychology of territoriality, they may not have abolished those arm rests, which no doubt reduce the amount of angst among passengers as they struggle – instinctively – to defend their space. Their removal makes for a less pleasant journey.

The concept of defensible space is one that all those engaged in such enterprises should look up. Unless, of course, their aim is to make life less pleasant.

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