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‘Cities are designed around men. It’s time for equality in planning’

Catalina Turcu

Despite representing half of the population, women have never been at the heart of planning thought or practice.

Only a few women have been influential or writing on planning and city design, with the author and activist Jane Jacobs being the single biggest exception, while most cities are designed around men’s needs and their work. In fact, in an influential 1980s essay, What Would a Non-Sexist City Be Like? Yale professor Dolores Hayden argued women’s place had been in the home and that had shaped architectural design and urban planning in the last century.

Women use cities differently to men in three ways. First, they tend to spend more time in their homes because they are more likely to work part-time and take responsibility for child caring. However, this is changing rapidly. More women than ever before are in full-time employment due to wider societal changes such as the rise of dual-earner families and shifts in parental leave. Second, women have different transport habits. They drive less, use more public transport and multi-task more between home and work; that is to say, they take more short trips and daily errands than men. Third, women say some public spaces do not belong to them either because they feel designed for men or are badly lit and so they feel unsafe. On average, women walk less in the city and one recurring explanation for that is personal safety. Women prefer to take a taxi after dark, preferring to ‘pay to stay safe’.

How can urban planning deliver a more inclusive city for women? Urban plans should be made with women’s safety, comfort and economic welfare in mind. Planning for women’s safety means well-designed, well-lit and active public space at all hours and more seamless transport, where women do not have to walk between isolated locations. Planning for women’s comfort means a built environment that accounts for women’s physical and biological characteristics. Women are shorter than men, they carry and care for children and use buggies in the city. They also prefer to use more sheltered and warmer environments due to differences in their body metabolism. Planning for women’s economic welfare means planning for safe walking and – why not? – making it cheaper for women to use public transport as they use it more and so end up paying more than men while earning less.

While urban planning cannot completely change some core issues with being a woman in the city like street harassment, planning for a better environment with the other half of the population in mind can only help us progress toward equality.

Catalina Turcu, senior lecturer in sustainable development and planning, University College London


Readers' comments (5)

  • Men want safe lighting too. And I disagree with the assertion that cities are 'designed around men’s needs and their work'.

    I would say city centres are pretty female-centric already. Especially given that 78% of all consumer decisions are driven by women.

    A low number of female planners does not necessarily mean female needs have been disregarded in planning.

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  • This is the most stupid, backwards, infuriating article I've read this year. This is literally fake news.

    You're arguing that city design should be based on making cities more accessible to the stereotyped woman, balancing to the needs of the stereotyped man. How about instead, we strive for equality between men and women in fact, rather than in city planning?

    I'm fairly certain good lighting at all times is essential to everybody's safety, not just women's. I'm fairly certain good public transport links benefit everyone, not just women. I'd love to see proof that men drive more than women, and women take public transport more. And as for charging women less to use public transport because they use it more - that's just plain stereotyping and discrimination.

    Men can work part-time. Men can be stay-at-home Dads. Your claim that "women spend more time at home because they're *more likely* to work part-time and have child caring responsibilities" is a logical fallacy.

    As a final remark, you said "More women than ever before are in full-time employment due to wider societal changes such as the rise of dual-earner families". Then WHY would you want to change something that has, but your own claim, bene designed for that purpose?

    What an absolutely trash article. As a new user of this website, I seriously hope this isn't the norm.

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  • I agree with the previous comment that men want safe lighting too, in fact probably more so than women as males are more likely to be attacked or robbed in towns and cities than females.

    If women spend more time in their homes then they spend less time in cities so, if it were true that cities were designed around men (which it is not) then there would be some justification.

    If women drive less and use more public transport then you could say cities are designed more around women because men are paying the lion's share of extortionate car parking and congestion charges whereas women gain more benefit from subsidised public transport.

    The claim that "women say some public spaces do not belong to them" sounds rather questionable - nobody I know would use such terminology - I suspect this is either words put into other peoples mouths or possibly simply the views of the author.

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  • Steady on @2.15pm.

    This article is infuriatingly stupid enough to make me want to move to the US and vote for Donald Trump (it's what endless identity politics can do to people!)

    But I'd keep your LGC subscription.

    The rest is pretty good!

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  • In contrast to the earlier comments on here, I just want to thank you for being thought provoking. And (as a grey haired male), I suspect you're "on to something" in suggesting this - especially as so many of our public spaces were designed so long ago. It's probably also true that they don't cater well for older people too (public loos anyone??).

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