Fri, Sep 26, 2008 - Page 9 News List

Gender and the city: Struggling in a man’s world

By Viv Groskop  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The urban planning concepts that affect women most are predictable: nurseries, housing design, parks, pavements, safety and transport. Burgess says that 75 percent of bus journeys are taken by women and only 30 percent of women have access to a car during the day, yet urban schemes are designed around car drivers and commuters. Many of the problems of urban planning simply reflect women’s domestic inequality: The fact that women still do the bulk of child care, look after the elderly and do the household shopping and cleaning.

“Women are less likely to have a simple journey to work like men,” Greed said. “They break up their journey, stop off at the child minder, school and then work, and maybe the shops and school on the way back. Public transport favors the male commute in and out of the city center.”

It is disturbing, when you start to think about it, that women simply accept the physical and geographical limitations placed on them in everyday life.

“You are used to it being uncomfortable,” said Eeva Berglund, a social anthropologist and author of Doing Things Differently: Women’s Design Service at 20.

“One of the major issues is the way that women restrict their lives. You choose where you go and where you don’t go and you come to find that acceptable,” Berglund said.

This chills me slightly as I remember the times I have excluded myself from shops, offices, public transport options, arts events and restaurants because I have a buggy with me, because I am carrying a baby who will need breastfeeding or have various children in tow who won’t make it up all the steps. When I first had a baby I noticed this and found it annoying. Now, like a Stepford Wife automaton, I accept it. And I never sit on those sloping shelves at bus stops or stations because they are at a weird height.

But how can we change all these things? Above all, it is about architects, whether male or female, being open to these issues. More women in the industry would help too, because at least some of them would design in their own image.

“Designers see themselves at the end of their pencil — or their mouse,” Davis said.

“Until about 15 years ago, most architects and planners were men. They saw themselves moving through this environment. Because they were men and they were car drivers, they were interested in keeping commuters moving. It’s the same issue as with disability. They didn’t understand how a 15mm lip on a curb could upset a buggy or a wheelchair. Not that they were being sexist — it just didn’t occur to them,” she said.

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