Abstract Footpaths provide an integral component of our urban environments and have the potential to act as safe places for people and the focus for community life. Despite this, the approach to designing footpaths that are safe while providing this sense of place often occurs in silos. There is often very little consideration given to how designing for sense of place impacts safety and vice versa. The aim of this study was to use a systems analysis and design framework to develop a design template for an ‘ideal’ footpath system that embodies both safety and sense of place. This was achieved through using the first phase of the Cognitive Work Analysis framework, Work Domain Analysis, to specify a model of footpaths as safe places for pedestrians. This model was subsequently used to assess two existing footpath environments to determine the extent to which they meet the design requirements specified. The findings show instances where the existing footpaths both meet and fail to meet the design requirements specified. Through utilising a systems approach for footpaths, this paper has provided a novel design template that can inform new footpath design efforts or be used to evaluate the extent to which existing footpaths achieve their safety and sense of place requirements.