The places and spaces around us shape the way we live and experience our everyday lives. Syon Yoon, Urban Designer at JTP, discusses why it is crucial that as built environment professionals, we do not overlook the diversity of our cities and plan to provide equal opportunities for everyone regardless of gender, age, culture and social background.
Women make up half of the population, yet their lifestyles and behaviours have inadvertently not always been accounted for in the planning and management of cities. In today’s contemporary society, women continue to take the larger share of household, familial and caring duties (McKinsey, 2018), increasingly balancing journeys for work, house chores and childcare, making more trips per weekday than men – although these trips are often shorter and have consecutive purposes (known as trip-chaining).
In London, women make walking trips about 8% more than men (National Travel Survey for England, 2019) and according to the World Bank (2018) women represent the largest share of public transport users around the world – yet still, many women face barriers that limit their mobility.
Women represent the largest share of public transport users around the world – yet still, many face barriers that limit their mobility.
Gender mainstreaming seeks to implement a gender-sensitive lens into practices to consider the situations of all genders, addressing frameworks and structures that lead to inequality. In the mid-1980s, gender mainstreaming was adopted as a gender equality policy tool for the United Nations and the European Union. At that time, the City of Vienna in Austria, had an urban planning landscape that was dominated by male urban planners and architects. As such, the concerns of women, children and minority groups were often not adequately reflected in the city’s urban design and architecture. The city adopted gender mainstreaming as a way to create a fair city shared by all and Vienna has since gone on to introduce many initiatives with the aim of becoming an equitable city.
Since the early 1990s, Vienna’s planners have undertaken more than 60 pilot projects tackling different aspects of urban planning and design. Ranging from improving streetscapes and public parks to housing projects designed by women with women in mind. Typically, small-scale interventions with localised impacts, the projects are making a real difference to residents’ daily lives.
Even the simplest form of gender-sensitive interventions, such as easier access to public transport, wider pavements and ramps for pushchairs and prams have improved the everyday experience for women in Vienna. Credit: Dan Visan.
One of the city’s earliest studies captured data on the differences between men and women’s experiences and movement patterns. It revealed that women had a more varied pattern of movement and identified that even the simplest and inexpensive forms of gender-sensitive interventions can help improve their everyday experience. These interventions include easier access to public transport, wider pavements and ramps for pushchairs and prams.
In the UK, a recent study carried out by the Royal Town Planning Institute (2021) asserts that gender mainstreaming has not been effectively implemented as a means of integrating the needs of all genders equally into spatial planning. It further suggests that the integration of a gender dimension into spatial policy-making has been held back by a host of different factors, including inadequacies of both the education and planning systems, resulting in gender inequalities going largely undiscussed. These inadequacies hinder women’s ability to shape policies and progress decisions that have positive implications for gender equality attainment.
When dealing with gender mainstreaming, many people overlook the great, and often indirect, rippling effect that it has on creating an overall inclusive city. What we have learned from Vienna is that the integration of a gender dimension in the education system and daily working practices has helped to facilitate an overall attitudinal change. It has resulted in female-friendly development initiatives that have significant benefits for children, the elderly, disabled, as well as able-bodied men and women.
Thus, there is a strong argument that gender mainstreaming does not place women’s needs above (and therefore risks undermining) the needs of other protected characteristic groups. On the contrary, incorporating a gender dimension at all levels of planning, decision-making and design recognises the multifaceted nature of discrimination and the complexities associated with equality attainment, encouraging us to think about the different needs of all genders, at all ages, of all abilities, and of all races, religions and beliefs.
Gender mainstreaming often has an indirect, rippling effect on creating an overall inclusive city. Credit: Huy Phan.
Changing the status quo
As a young, female urban designer, I feel JTP is really challenging this status quo. I am part of an all-female masterplanning team, and we actively seek to bring a gender sensitive lens into planning. We have, and continue to research different, successful approaches from around the world and embed them into our practices, whilst having open conversations about positively shifting the current mindset.
In a recent project we undertook for a new settlement in Cambridgeshire, we held workshops and carried out research to draw up a vision for a place where:
- everyone has equal access to public realm and feel they belong by ensuring the provision of well-lit places which encourage activity and natural surveillance. From the large-scale country parks and village greens with activity zones to invite all ages, to public bathrooms that cater for the elderly, or pregnant and breastfeeding women, we propose to design spaces where everyone can feel comfortable and secure.
- you can find connected communities with co-located services, communal spaces and mixed uses that support people with different needs and circumstances.
- streets and spaces are named after women, promoting equality between women and men in the public domain.
Having an all-female team has been hugely beneficial in integrating a gender dimension which ultimately promotes inclusivity for everyone, not only women.
Having an all-female team has been hugely beneficial in integrating a gender dimension which ultimately promotes inclusivity for everyone.
Active and genuine community engagement
The city of Umeå in Sweden has adopted the gendered landscape approach, collaborating with women and girls of the city to build landscape and urban facilities across the town. Umeå further uses its many integrated projects around the city to educate and create awareness about the importance of a cohesive understanding of gendered decision-making structures concerning all urban planning in the city. For example, for the design of the city’s new station tunnel, architects were compelled to rethink lighting, the use of transparent materials, rounded corners, artworks, and multiple entrance points to ensure a sense of security for all.
Community engagement is central to our design approach at JTP, and we have for many years seen the benefits of putting people at the heart of the creative process, unearthing the real needs of a community, empowering stakeholders, creating goodwill, inspiring community spirit and building consensus from the outset of projects. It is paramount to question and listen to the impacts of the ‘solutions’ we design by actively engaging with the public and intentionally putting on the gender-sensitive lens in the planning and designing of cities.
Healthy places for all
Research shows that improving pedestrian and sustainable transport systems and compact urban cores, where shops and workplaces are co-located, is key to achieving successful gender mainstreaming. JTP has undertaken extensive research on Healthy Placemaking, which is based on the principle that the creation of healthy, sustainable places begins with good urban planning. The combination of a compact mixed-use urban structure, meeting daily needs within walking distance, and providing integrated green space creates the conditions for people to lead healthy lives by encouraging ‘active travel’, reducing vehicular traffic, improving the public realm and enhancing social interaction. We have developed our own set of Healthy Placemaking principles which are embedded into all our projects as part of the planning application.
Personally, I am excited to be involved in planning our cities where conversations of gender mainstreaming are more current than ever. Practising urban design at JTP, where our designs reflect the community’s voice and are driven by pedestrian-first approaches, fills me with confidence that we are paving the way in the right direction to gender mainstreaming.