Planning the Non-Sexist City: the Eurofem Initiative and Beyond

It has long been established, from research in the fields of urban geography, history, sociology, philosophy and urban planning, that the city is sexist (Greed1994). Change is not easy to achieve, because the city is the outward manifestation of deeply-held assumptions about women's role in society. These are transmitted onto the design of our towns and cities through the urban planning system and through the decision-making powers of planners, architects, surveyors, engineers and city managers. All these professions remain male-dominated and so few women have a voice at policy-making level (Anthony 2001). Indeed 'more women' does not necessarily mean 'better policy' such are the powers of professional socialisation and the need to conform to succeed.

Although 'planning is for people' it has been shown that women suffer disadvantage within a built environment that is developed by men, primarily for other men (Darke et al, 2000). In Britain (figures are comparable in other western countries) women comprise 52% of the population, and 65% are employed in the workforce. Women comprise the majority of public transport users, the elderly, the disabled, shoppers, care-providers; and the ethnic minority population (54%). Yet, the average citizen is still perceived to be 'a white, male, middle-class car-driver' (Uteng and Cresswell 2008).

Women have distinct roles and responsibilities in society, all of which generate different usage of urban space. Fewer women than men have access to the use of a car, and they comprise the majority of public transport users. Women's daily travel patterns are more complex than men's (Hamilton and Jenkins 1991, 2000), as many will be combining work with childcare, and other home-making commitments. This has implications for all levels of policy making, including the city-wide 'macro' level of overall strategic policy; the district 'meso' level of local planning; and the detailed 'micro' level of daily practicalities [as explained below].

At the macro level of overall urban form and structure, cities have traditionally been zoned and the land uses divided according to male life experience. Home and work are separated out to create distinct residential and employment zones, and an extensive car-based transport system gets the worker to his work on time. Zoning was undertaken in the name of public health and efficiency, but was heavily influenced by historical attitudes as to the proper 'place' of woman within the city of man, that is 'separate' and 'at home'. Modern women have lives and work which take place outside the home, whilst still being predominantly responsible for childcare, shopping and home-making. For example a woman may set off from home stop off at the childminder, then at the school, and finally to work, returning via the school gates, grocery store and childminder, resulting in complicated trip-chaining rather than a simple mono-purpose commute.

To create a non-sexist city, such differences would need to be taken into account in planning transport policy, parking policy, congestion charging and public transport needs. It is virtually impossible to carry out such complex journeys by bus because the routes in many cities are still predominantly radial from the suburbs to the centre, not tangential, linking up out of town employment with retail locations, suburban school sites and residential areas.

Cities were torn apart in the past to make way for man and his motorcar; nowadays the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction and the aim is to control the motorcar and restrict movement in the name of environmental sustainability. This concept is not so holy that it should not be above gender-critique, as it gives little consideration to the nature women's journeys. Women are blamed for destroying the planet by using a car; particular condemnation is levelled at the 'school run' which actually only constitutes only 15% of all journeys (Uteng and Cresswell 2008). The availability of public transport is very limited in many areas, so women's car journeys constitute a form of 'private' public transport escorting family members around the city, as an extension of their caring role.

As an alternative to spread-out, zoned, low density cities, European women planners would like to see the 'city of everyday life', the non-sexist city, which they define as the city of short distances, mixed land uses and multiple centres. The emphasis would be upon the district (meso) level with localised facilities, shops, schools, child-care facilities and amenities. This would reduce the need to travel in the first place and create sustainable, accessible and equitable cities, whilst fulfilling many of the criteria of the new urbanism too.

At the detailed (micro) street level many 'small' changes are needed to create a non-sexist city. To enable more women and men to travel by public transport, to walk and cycle, a range of supporting services and infrastructural changes would be needed. Public transport systems would need to be greatly improved and made more accessible. Women with pushchairs (strollers), people with disabilities and those with heavy bags find their way blocked by steps, narrow entrances, and inadequate sidewalks (pavements). More seating, bus shelters, and most of all more public toilets (restrooms) are essential if people are expected to leave their cars at home. The true position of women in society can be gauged by the length of the line/queue for the women's toilets.

In order to create the non-sexist city, all forward-planning policy topics should be reviewed from a gender perspective - not only childcare and personal safety, but also policies concerned with transportation planning, employment, sport and other ostensibly male issues, which in fact impact substantially on women. For example, it is extremely sexist to undertake a major urban regeneration programme that provides a large number of new jobs in the area, if women cannot reach them because of a lack of public transport and local childcare, and inconsiderate access and landscaping details that create a threatening environment, particularly after dark.

How can the urban policy be changed? Nowadays considerable store is being put upon methods that ensure the mainstreaming of gender considerations into all aspects of policy-making and implementation. At international level the UN Millennium goals stress the importance of all governments taking into account gender considerations in all developmental and infrastructural projects (UN 2007). Within the European Union, member states, including the UK, are expected to integrate gender considerations into all public policy-making activities including urban spatial planning (EU 1994, 1995). Ideally this process should eventually result in non-sexist cities being created, but the recommendations are only slowly being taken up.

A series of methodologies have been developed to enable local governments to carry out this task more effectively, such as the RTPI 'Toolkit' (Reeves and Greed, 2003) which sets a series of questions that need to be asked at each stage of the planning process to raise gender awareness and ensure that women's as well as men's needs are taken into account as follows:

1. Who comprises the policy-making team?

2. What is the representation of men and women? Minority groups?

3. Who are planners planning for? Men, women, workers, minorities?

4. How are statistics gathered, and are they disaggregated by gender?

5. What are the key values, priorities and objectives of the plan?

6. Who is consulted and who is involved in participation?

7. How is the plan evaluated? By whom? On what basis?

8. How is the policy implemented, managed, and monitored?

The toolkit places emphasis on the characteristics of the institutional context and decision-makers. For example, decision-making bodies in urban renewal and regeneration tend to be drawn from the male-dominated, commercial, property development sector. Although there is no shortage of interested women, they tend to be found working in community groups which also need to be involved. Further changes need to be made to the statutory planning system, planning law, funding and administrative processes, all of which can restrict the implementation of non-sexist urban spatial policy – often on the grounds that women's issues are 'not a land-use matter'. Additional barriers to implementing change are presented by other departments and professions which exercise a measure of control over the built environment, especially technical officers in the fields of engineering, highways, building control who generally possess limited social or gender awareness. However their decisions can scupper the best of intentions by introducing physical barriers to women's access and movement around the built environment. In order to change the city, one needs to change the education, worldview, imagination, culture, awareness, priorities and gender composition of those who shape it.

If all this could be achieved, then gender, and especially women’s issues would be visibly included in the core strategy of the new LDFs (Local Development Frameworks), in RSS (Regional Spatial Strategy) policies and in all aspects of transport planning, urban design and economic development policy. Development control would take into account the gender impact of proposals on women and their lives. Cities would gradually change in form and structure to incorporate women’s needs as well as those of men, and improve social conditions for everyone.

Clara Greed

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