In essence, women friendly cities are those cities where all the residents of that particular city can equally benefit from the financial, social and political opportunities presented before them."
Cities should always be planned and designed based on the needs of their users. On International Women's Day, let's think for a moment about the movement towards designing cities that empower women as much as they do men. With women comprising at least half of urban populations, many have pointed out that the disciplines of urban planning and design have historically been dominated by men and consequently, by the male perspective. This is a big topic. This is just a brief overview.
Thinking about designing cities 'for' women runs the risk of reinforcing all sorts of unhelpful gender stereotypes. But this isn't about superficial, potentially patronising projects. Effective city design needs to take into account the different patterns that emerge about what different people do in the city, and what they need. In many cases, women and men have similar needs. But research also tells us that males and females do use cities differently, all over the world, and that certain factors associated with being female tend to restrict freedom of movement within the city. Many of these needs gaps, such as caring responsibilities and work patterns, will likely narrow as society moves towards gender equality. But right now around the world, certain urban design and planning factors can create challenges to women's self-esteem and belongingness, and can restrict their likelihood of accessing healthy opportunities in the urban environment, such as access to nature, exercise, or positive social interactions.
As such, this is a matter of social justice that affects women's ability to engage in public life. It is fundamental that cities integrate the female perspective in design and planning process, and ensure that genders can benefit equally from services such as transportation, exercise venues, parks, health and social care facilities, and all other aspects of the city. So what's currently stopping them?
According to the research, factors associated with gender in urban design and planning seem to be largely divided into two main challenges: accessibility (psychological and physical); and safety. Some examples include:
Psychological and physical accessibility
How this all affects mental health
Exclusion, anxiety, fear and marginalisation are detrimental to our mental health. Good design helps people feel included and valued, prevents isolation, and empowers us to access places that can have a protective effect on mental health, such as health facilities, natural parks, places to exercise, or settings to socialise. Feeling able to use the city also helps create feelings of community belongingness and social cohesion.
A To-do List starter for cities to deliver urban design that empowers females as it does males
ARE CITIES WHERE WOMEN
- Women-Friendly Cities Initiative
Note: gender, urban design and mental health is a challenging intersection. This op-ed cannot hope to fully cover its many facets but is intended to inspire thought about the opportunities to design more inclusive and empowering cities. If you want to examine a different angle, please submit to this blog.
Read about how urban design can promote good mental health for everyone here
About the Author
Sanity and Urbanity: