7 examples that cities are not made for women

7 examples that cities are not made for women


It so happened that the team of our office consists of women. This was not the intention and is rather atypical, because city consulting, urban planning, architecture and construction and management of similar projects are still “male” professions.

For example, with Of the 24 regional centers of Ukraine, only 3 cities have female chief architects (Zhytomyr, Kropyvnytskyi, Kharkiv).

Only 25% of all US architects are women, despite the fact that the number of women and men studying architecture is 50/50.

Our women’s collective gathered by accident, it was not on purpose. But thanks to this, when dealing with the development of cities and communities, we have optics that are more sensitive to human diversity. And that is why we often notice that the needs and interests of women are not represented in the city.

After the Second World War, in many European countries there were not enough men to dismantle rubble and rebuild: many fought, some were wounded, so women actively joined physical labor. In Germany they were called Trümmerfrauen — women from the ruins.

Despite this, they did not have the right to vote and make decisions about reconstruction. Therefore, modernist cities / districts built in the second half of the 20th century exclude the interests of many groups. We will not repeat the mistakes of the last century, shall we?

Here are the top 7 examples of how cities are not made for women.

The issue of academic authority

Leslie Kern once researched an issue of the University of Toronto’s alumni magazine. All the articles in it were written by middle-aged white men. All quoted theses also belonged to them. What does this lead to?

When designing the urban environment, solutions proposed by the most popular, most cited male scientists are often implemented. Which, obviously, do not face the problems of women.

Therefore, the first step to any decision is to research the experiences of different user groups, focus groups and analytics.

Only from schoolchildren will you learn that they use the tennis table to sit on it or eat; only by talking to park visitors will you understand that they are not walking along the path, but climbing through a hole in the fence; only a conversation with a person who uses crutches will help to design a door that will be convenient to open with busy hands.

Only after talking with the visitor of the sustainability center can you understand that not all questions are comfortable to voice at the reception, and an additional room is needed for conference discussions.

Feeling of danger in the city

“What were you doing in that area?”

“Why did you walk alone at night?”

“What length skirt did you wear?”

“Sexual harassment reminds women every day that certain public spaces are not meant for them.” – says geographer Hille Koskela.

Women feel less protected in the city. How can it be changed by influencing the space? We investigated that the design of the space affects the development of healthy communication, or can contribute to bullying.

Circular design, lack of closed corners, lighting and visibility, spaces under the supervision of the community – elements that create a sense of security.

The behavior of women in the city has changed, but the city has not

Previously, there were stereotypes that women should not take an active part in public life: a woman’s whole life was spent at home with children or accompanied by her husband. Therefore, urban space was designed taking into account the needs of men.

Since then, the world has changed, and now women take a full part in the life of the city. But urban spaces have remained unchanged: a large part of the city is still not adapted to women.

Why can women be cold in the office? Whose needs are architectural norms based on?

Everything from smartphones to seat belts and office temperature is designed, tested and implemented with standards defined by anthropometric data (bodies) and the needs of men.

Illustration from the Album of barrier-free solutions

The same is true in architecture. Anthropometric data of women are ignored even at the stage of building design and city planning. And, as a result, the female experience of staying in them is ignored.

We fight against this and eradicate the approach of the “ideal normalized person”, working in the direction of barrier-freeness and guided by the rules of universal design, which takes into account human diversity in every project, every decision.

Public toilets

Have you noticed that the queue for the women’s toilet is always longer than for the men’s? Due to physiological features, the process of going to the toilet for a woman takes more time and space, and also requires such intimate hygiene products as pads and tampons. However, even the number of cubicles in the women’s toilet is designed for the “average person”. Exactly. A man

How to change it? When designing toilets, focus on the needs of different people: children and the elderly, pregnant women and people with stoma, people in wheelchairs or with prostheses and the time they need to visit the toilet.

Spaces for pregnant women and people with children

People mistakenly believe that reduced mobility is about injury or disability. However, we can all become immobilized at various times in our lives.

You should go outside with a heavy suitcase or a baby carriage, put on heels or even just stay awake, as the city around you turns into barriers. Suddenly you notice all the steps, turnstiles, narrow passages and no elevators. And in some places the city in general becomes dangerous for you. If it is almost impossible to use public transport with a baby carriage, what can we say about people who move around in a wheelchair.

Leslie Kern, in Feminist City, makes these arguments by describing how pregnancy changed her experience of interacting with the city. At the time, she was living in London and had a job five tube stations from home.

Pregnancy shouldn’t affect her mobility, Leslie thought. However, she soon realized that she was wrong: the nausea due to toxicosis was unbearable.

Illustration What Would a Feminist City Look Like?

Illustration What Would a Feminist City Look Like?

Breastfeeding can also be a challenge in the city. Unfortunately, such a natural thing as feeding children can still cause outrage in public places. Mothers are forced to carefully plan their route and choose places where they can “hide” from judgmental looks and unsolicited advice.

In the same way, the route of a person with a child is subject to the physiological needs of the baby: frequent diaper changes, the need to access places where you can bathe, etc.

Therefore, every public space, shopping center, and restaurant should have a place for child care. It is not difficult and not expensive to organize, it is only necessary to take into account basic human needs. By the way, why not “mother and child room” but “baby care room”?

In order for society to move away from the stereotypes that only a woman can take care of a child, it is necessary for spaces to take into account that a father, uncle, brother or friend of the family, grandparents or nannies can go for a walk with the child.

So far, changing tables are rare, but if they are installed, they are more often in women’s restrooms, which reinforces the stereotype that caring for children is only a woman’s responsibility.

Cars are the focus of the city

For most cities, the convenience of motorists is a priority, while the convenience of pedestrians is often neglected. For example, in winter, roads are the first to be cleared of snow, and only then are footpaths.

In contrast, in Stockholm, they decided to be the first to clean sidewalks, bicycle paths and bus lanes. Why? Because they are used more often by women, children and the elderly. In addition, children need to be taken to school or kindergarten before work, it is worth clearing these routes first.

Illustration: study of the accessibility of urban spaces

Illustration: study of the accessibility of urban spaces

As long as the motorists didn’t throw stones at me: a truly comfortable and properly designed city will be convenient for everyone, both for people in cars and for pedestrians or cyclists. Urbanism is not opposed to cars and not hostile to them. It’s just that our priority should be where people are most vulnerable.

The solution: a city that is friendly to everyone

Cities should be friendly to everyone. And women should be included in the decision-making process of what a city looks like, comfortable and safe for them. It’s long past time to get rid of stereotypes and admit: abilities are not determined by gender, age, or appearance, but only by professional expertise.

Expand your worldview, let another person’s experience into your world, open a window of opportunity for those who were previously overlooked. There is no such thing as a ready-made general plan, if one were to be implemented, all problems would disappear. A comprehensive approach is needed: work at the social, economic, political and architectural-planning levels. But first of all, remove the barriers in the heads.

Victoria Titova, CEO of the urban bureau Big City Lab – manager of city projects, head of the school transformation project, especially for UP. Life

Publications in the “View” section are not editorial articles and reflect exclusively the author’s point of view.


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