Ruby Wilson, account executive for DevComms, believes a feminist approach to town planning will have benefits for all.
Recently, Glasgow became the first UK city to pass a feminist town planning motion, following in the footsteps of European cities Vienna and Barcelona.
The motion was put forward by Green councillor for Langside, Holly Bruce, following her involvement with the YWCA Young Woman in Leadership programme which carried out research into the disparities the urban environment in Glasgow compounded.
A relatively new approach (certainly for the UK) with immeasurable potential to improve the experiences of our cities for the majority of users, what does feminist town planning really mean for our urban environments?
The London Tube has 272 functioning stations, but out of these, only 92 have step-free access (TfL). If you’re travelling with a pushchair, this makes accessing over two thirds of the tube extremely challenging. Needless to say, this also unfairly excludes other people with access requirements, such as wheelchair users, from the transport network.
This is just one example of an inequitable design decision that disproportionally affects women, who despite the fluidity of gender roles in the 21st Century, still make up 66 per cent of full-time caregivers (Michigan State University).
However, the issue certainly extends beyond gender identities, being intersectional at its core. The typical design of our urban environments is unfairly disposed to those who feel safe inhabiting a public space and are less likely to experience harassment, assault or a hate crime – manifested, for example, in inadequate streetlighting, park visibility and the provision of public toilets.
Literature on the topic is relatively limited, with Leslie Kern’s Feminist Cities representing the most up to date and comprehensive analysis of the disparities. Dr Ellie Cosgrave is another contributor to the field, having presented a TedTalk in 2019 and worked on the UN Women’s Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces programme, whilst Glasgow’s Women in Lead report 2021 provides an example of empirical research on the topic (inspiring Holly Bruce’s motion in Glasgow).
Researchers have noted that the prevalence of inequitable designs in our urban environments is far from purposeful. The needs of certain groups within society have not been adequately considered in planning decisions because other design priorities have tended to dominate.
Therefore, because equitable design has not been pro-actively considered, it has not been effectively incorporated into our urban environments; and the default lens used to design our urban spaces has been that of cis-gendered men who have tended to dominate planning positions over the last two centuries, according to data from the RTPI.
The, albeit light, body of work on the topic denotes both the issues of our current urban set-ups, but also highlights the ways in which we can rectify the failures of our cities to make them fully inclusive. Fundamentally, the solution is to consider groups that have not previously been central to planning decisions.
Having led by example, Vienna – the first ‘feminist city’ – has wholly accessible public transport, wide pushchair friendly pavements as well as well-lit parks. Additionally, the data gathering carried out to make decisions about the city included a wide range of demographic groups.
Similarly, in 2017 Barcelona implemented the Government measure ‘Urban planning with the gender perspective’ which focuses on care, mobility, and safety in the city’s public spaces.
In Glasgow, the feminist town planning motion means that the gendered approach is incorporated into the City Development Plan, making women central to “all aspects of planning, public realm design, policy development and budgets” (Cities Today). Notably, this means that planning applications will need to demonstrate equitable design considerations.
The benefits of greater inclusion within our cities are endless but in achieving this the official incorporation of policy at a local governance level is imperative. By rectifying past design errors in decisions going forward our cities will become more inclusive, more diverse, attract greater economic investment, be more sustainable and become safer, benefitting everyone who uses them.
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