The suburbs are killing us, academic warns

23 April 2014

Better urban planning that avoids service-starved suburbia will help reduce domestic violence, a planning academic has claimed.

After a recent spate of killings in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia – the latest involving two children killed in their grandparents’ home on Easter Sunday – a professor of urban planning at the University of Melbourne has urged authorities to curb the expansion of outer suburbs that lack the services women and children need for protection against husbands and other male family members.

"Unlike the stereotype of criminal violence being concentrated in the big bad central city, rural areas and outer suburbs have higher rates of domestic violence in every Australian state," writes Carolyn Whitzman in an article for academic news website The Conversation.

In Australia, she says, intimate partner violence is the biggest health risk to women aged 15 to 44.

Suburban Las Vegas (Lynn Betts, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service/Wikimedia Commons)

"And outer suburbs are critically lacking in the kinds of social support services – health, legal, emergency shelters, family counselling – that might make a life-and-death difference," Whitzman writes.

International research shows that such services for women and children at risk of violence can save lives. Whitzman argues that legal aid, specialised court services, counselling, and emergency housing can all prevent domestic violence from leading to fatalities.

"At present, we are allowing very high rates of growth in outer suburbs, without the critical infrastructure people need to live healthy and safe lives," she writes. "Schools, health and social services, and emergency housing need to be provided, just as much as water, sewers, roads and rubbish collection."

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