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May 02, 2016

The Community and Public are Gendered

The Community and Public are Gendered
Strategies for Community Design that are in the Public Interest
When you think about planning, how much are you thinking about who is going to use that space? Might they experience the space differently depending on their identities?

When we design a public space, we design it for the public. But who is that public? In Toronto, where women comprise 52% of the population, do they ever come to mind as more than half of “the public”? Usually not. If gender and women’s needs were more included in city planning, cities would probably look quite different.

Gender Sensitive Planning
Gender sensitive planning seeks to understand how different groups of people use public space and integrates it into the planning process. As Eva Kali, a gender expert in urban planning observed, “You need to know who is using the space, how many people, and what are their aims. Once you’ve analyzed the patterns of public space you start to define the needs and interests of the people using it...Then planning can be used to meet these needs.”

A Case Study
Take Vienna, for example. People’s gendered identities have influenced urban design in many different ways. Time-use surveys have been employed to inform the design of neighbourhoods that include on-site kindergartens, pharmacies and doctors’ offices close to public transit, enabling ease of access for women to run errands, and get to/from school and work with children. Parking spaces accommodate a variety of activities and footpaths reflect women’s patterns of movement. The streetscape and sidewalks were widened to accommodate carts and strollers, with ramps and extra lighting for safety.

Gender-sensitive planning doesn’t negatively affect other groups, but results in a better city for everyone. It requires both political will and the interest of urban planners to learn about it and meaningfully meet the needs of the entire public. 

Some discussion questions- We would love to hear from you in the comments section below!

1)      Is gender-sensitive planning an ethical issue? Why or why not?
2)      Do you have any examples where gender sensitivity has been built in to the planning process?
3)      How do you think that your community would look different if gender-sensitive planning had been used?
4)      We live in multiethnic communities. Is ethnic-sensitive as important as gender-sensitive planning? Why or why not?


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