A recent article in The Boston Globe made an interesting observation about the shooting of Trayvon Martin this past February, speculating that part of the tragedy was rooted in poor urban planning: “Less than 1.2 percent of the population in Sanford walks to work, and the subdivision where the killing took place is designed for driving, so something as human as walking is odd behavior,” wrote Zach Youngerman for the Globe.
On February 26, 2012, 17-year-old Martin was walking home from the nearest convenience store to the house of his father’s girlfriend, located inside a gated community. Martin was reportedly shot by community watch coordinator George Zimmerman in front of the community clubhouse, where the seeming act of trespassing was likely a desperate and resourceful search for a sidewalk.
According to the Globe, the Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community is largely lacking in conventional sidewalks and other forms of pedestrian thoroughfare. Where Martin entered the subdivision where he was fatally shot, he would have encountered a rare stretch of sidewalk, a safer, and less disruptive means of arriving at his destination than the option of crossing the 30-foot street from the corner where he was. As Youngerman wrote, “On [Martin’s] mile walk to the nearest convenience store, the sidewalk ends twice and becomes a no-man’s-land of grassy highway shoulder. IF Martin were trespassing, he had no choice but to do so.”
Numerous design scenarios may have prevented the incident. Aside from more pedestrian-friendly planning, the neighborhood in Sanford, Florida could afford denser residential areas: houses sitting closer to the property line and residences with front porches instead of long driveways may make the Retreat feel a lot less ‘private,’ perhaps deterring Zimmerman from feeling alone, threatened, and fearfully accountable for Martin’s actions. A more local convenience store or café within the neighborhood may have prevented the encounter altogether. Unfortunately, Martin and Zimmerman met in an environment designed explicitly to be sheltered, a place built to project such an image of security that even the most unassuming actions spur insecurity.