Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

International Women's Day, Wednesday March 8th, and urban planning

(This is mostly a reprint from last year.)

Women as planners and architects. From the standpoint of labor within the urban planning profession, I have noticed on the land use side increasingly women make up a larger and larger proportion of the planning workforce, although directorships tend to be dominated by men.  Although maybe the DC area is an exception given that plenty of articles opine about the need for more women in the profession ("Urban Planning Needs More Women," Rooflines).

There are major exceptions, for example Jennifer Keesmaat is the planning director for the City of Toronto, Ellen McCarthy and Harriet Tregoning were directors of planning in DC, and Amanda Burden was the Planning Commissioner for the City of New York ("Social Planner," New York Magazine) while Janette Sadik-Khan was the Transportation Commissioner.  Sadik-Khan was succeeded by Polly Trachtenberg.

The transportation profession tends to be dominated by men still, as it is heavily engineering based, but that is changing too.

The architecture profession remains dominated by men ("Challenged to change their industries' faces," Daily Journal of Commerce; "Where are the women in architecture?," Austin American-Statesman) although the landscape architecture field has plenty of women practitioners.   

Women and the history of the planning profession.  One of the strands from which the planning profession in the US was birthed was out of women-initiated "good government" and "good places" initiatives in a time when women still didn't have the right to vote.

One of the special interest sections of the American Planning Association is Planning and Women and the Women's Transportation Seminar is a professional development organization for women working in the transportation field.

Land use planning and architecture.  Some argue that the principles of land use planning are designed to favor men ("If women built cities, what would our urban landscape look like," Guardian).  From the article:
In a classic 1980 essay called What Would a Non-sexist City Be Like?, the American urbanist Dolores Hayden called for centres that would “transcend traditional definitions of home, neighbourhood, city and workplace”. Since then, others have taken up the argument that a woman-friendly city would be more porous, the divisions between home and work less rigid, so that domestic work is acknowledged as a productive activity, and carers (of children, disabled relatives and older people) are less excluded from economic life. In any case, such divisions are often artificial, with women in developing-world cities undertaking economic activity that has too often been ignored.
The presence of women as an indicator of safety in the public space.  For years I have been strongly influenced by points made in writings about safety in public spaces and how the number of women out and about can be seen as an indicator of success or failure.  John King, urban design writer for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about this ("Great architecture, clean streets, culture -- it must be Minneapolis") in discussing Minneapolis as an example of his ten principles about how to make cities great:
Women know best. The first night in Minneapolis, I dined at Cafe Brenda on walleye and wild rice, which, with blueberry muffins, constitute the trifecta of local cuisine. A stroll past sleepy blocks of warehouses evolving from red-light district to residential neighborhood led me to the banks of the Mississippi. Walking along grassy parkland toward the Falls of St. Anthony, I had the place to myself -- except for one woman jogging casually past me toward the horizon.

When a city feels safe enough that a woman jogs along, alone, at dusk ... somebody is doing something right."
The presence of women as an indicator of what works and what doesn't in managing public spaces ha been discussed over the years in various writings on New York City's Bryant Park.

The New York Times  New York Region  Image.jpgKeith Bedford for The New York Times. A man and a woman: Minding the gender gap in Bryant Park.

From the 2005 New York Times article "Splendor in the Grass":
It was lunchtime at Bryant Park, and thousands of office workers were gathered beneath the emerald veil of trees. Ever since the park was renovated 13 years ago, it has been a remarkable space, and one of its most remarkable aspects is that the number of men and women is about equal, a balance that is carefully monitored as a barometer of the park's health. In 1980, when the space was rife with drug dealers and other scurrilous sorts, the ratio of men to women was about 9 to 1, said Dan Biederman, president of the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation.

But when the park reopened in 1992, the comfort level of women was seen as key to its resurgence, which is why the park's designers paid special attention to accouterments that appeal to women, like bathrooms with full-length mirrors, kiosk food and flowerbeds.

These days, the male-to-female ratio is just about even. And with this balance comes the possibility of triangulation, which Mr. Biederman defines with scientific precision as the tendency of an external stimulus to prompt strangers to interact. "If there's enough triangulation from things in the park," he said, "then people who don't know each other will break down and talk to each other."
Transit, women and safety.  Around the world women are harassed, even killed, in transit, India being particularly notorious.  In a number of places, women-only taxi services have been created to provide safe transit.
She Taxis, a women-focused taxi service in Greater New York City, modeled after the service in Mexico City ("Mexico launches fleet of pink cabs - driven by women, for women," New York Daily News) which was launched in 2009, launched in 2014 ("New Service Offers Taxis Exclusively for Women," New York Times).

Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris of UCLA has authored a number of papers on bus stop safety.  Many transit agencies have introduced anti-harassment programs.

-- Hollaback! is an organization that addresses street harassment issues
-- Hot Spots of Bus Stop Crime, Prof. Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, UCLA
-- Geography of Transit Crime, Loukaitou-Sideris et al., UCLA
-- Transit Security: A Description of Problems and Countermeasures, FTA

Cover image: Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way), by Sue Macy.

Women and bicycling.  There are many initiatives around promoting bicycle use by women.  One of the earliest was by the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (Women Cycling Project).   Now many local and state bicycle and alternative transportation organizations have women access initaitives.

The Race Pace chain of bicycle shops in Greater Baltimore has had for many years a sub-store called Bella Bikes dedicated to women's cycling, within their Ellicott City location.   

Women and political power. While there is no doubt that men are a majority of the holders of elected office at all levels across the United States ("Why Does the US Still Have So Few Women in Office?," The Nation), increasingly, women are winning elections for mayor in cities around the country.  DC's Muriel Bowser is one such example, but there are many others, including Houston and Salt Lake City.  More and more women are being elected to City Councils, etc.

Gender budgeting.  A few weeks ago, the Economist ran a provocative editorial, "Why governments should introduce gender budgeting," building on an earlier article, "Why national budgets need to take gender into account."

From the editorial:
At its simplest, gender budgeting sets out to quantify how policies affect women and men differently (see article). That seemingly trivial step converts exhortation about treating women fairly into the coin of government: costs and benefits, and investments and returns. You don’t have to be a feminist to recognise, as Austria did, that the numbers show how lowering income tax on second earners will encourage women to join the labour force, boosting growth and tax revenues. Or that cuts to programmes designed to reduce domestic violence would be a false economy, because they would cost so much in medical treatment and lost workdays.

As well as identifying opportunities and errors, gender budgeting brings women’s issues right to the heart of government, the ministry of finance. Governments routinely bat away sensible policies that lack a champion when the money is handed out. But if judgments about what makes sense for women (and the general good) are being formed within the finance ministry itself, then the battle is half-won.
By not looking at the differential impacts of policy in terms of gender, bias is structured into outcomes.

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At 2:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

getting women back to cities is paramount- they are much more aware of comfort and safety than most men and being sensitive to these issues improves many aspects of life . However- getting the American woman out of her car is a really big problem- far too many women seem to be entrenched car addicts. Safer cycling and not forcing cyclists into roads with cars, plus more urban retail choices is one answer IMO...

At 4:49 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

well, this is complicated. In households with children, mobility is hard. Moving children as well as goods, running errands, etc. is difficult.

It's possible to change this at the core and over short distances, but it's tougher over a larger scale.


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