Urban planning is defined as the technical and political process that focuses on the development and design of land use and the built environment. It affects everything we take for granted, including air, water, transportation, communication, distribution networks, and the infrastructure we use every single day. Urban planning includes a variety of work, such as land-use planning, zoning, economic development, environmental planning, transportation planning, market research, and citizen engagement.
Regardless of the variety of work needing to be done, there is a large lack of women representation in urban planning across the world. When looking around a built environment, it becomes clear that the buildings and streets are designed and planned out majorly by men. Different gender experiences can define planning needs differently and can overlook the struggles and needs that the other gender may experience and want to improve. Over time it has become evident that the lack of women representation in the planning of our cities has negatively affected the development of women in the workforce and made it unsafe and uninviting for other groups in the community.
Women’s absence in the discussion of urban planning over the years has directly resulted in wealth disparity, low job options, and urban displacement. Before the 20th century, women’s primary role was to serve the household and have the man be the sole provider of the home. With a refocus on individualism, women could now enter the workforce more leniently and not have to have children. But this development created zoned cities in which housing types, work, shopping, entertainment are separated depending on wealth, gender, and race. For single mothers, this zoned area restrains them to single-family suburbs farther away from the city with little options for food, unfriendly greenspaces like gated parks, and dangerous entertainment districts where women may become the subject of harassment. Transportation throughout cities and between districts is also inadequate for single mothers and working women because public transportation systems cannot sustain their complex schedule. Women statistically own fewer vehicles than men. Other transportation practices like cycling and walking are also dangerous for women of ages due to tall curbs and unlit streets that could cause psychological and physical damage. From all these faults, women from these zones have a harder time entering the workforce and gaining positions in urban planning where they can bring these difficulties to light.
In multiple countries around the world, statistics have shown that architecture, urban planning, politics, and engineering are being dominantly run by males. Not only by males but majorly by white men of higher socioeconomic status. Diversity in leadership and ideas is essential to designing a city where multiple cultures, genders, sexual orientations, and ages are embraced rather than disregarded. Diversity in policies can result in better political representation for women in public and private systems and begin to prioritize the needs of more than only well-off white males. One of the primary issues with urban design now is that when collecting data for urban planning projects, most of the designer’s research is male-oriented. This results in biased focuses when designing a plan for the next city or area. Urban planning should turn to use sex-disaggregated data for their projects that will include more diverse viewpoints and benefit the overall city. Women typically take a deeper role in the community by being a more active member of their children’s school, the community’s food options, and the overall safety for women, children, the elderly, and other at-risk groups. Therefore, by including new gender perspectives in the data for urban planning projects, the design will come out to be more safe, inclusive, and improve that community’s opportunities for the future.
The inclusion of women in the urban planning process has already been proven to benefit society and improve the lives of the community other than white males. Aspern, Vienna, has been deemed to have one of the highest qualities of life in any city around the world. One of the ways they acquired that title was through “gender-mainstreaming”, the practice of ensuring women and men are equally heard in policy, legislation, and resource allocation. Like other European cities, men were the primary architects and designers who only took into account their daily lives and failed to include the needs of working women, caregivers, and anyone else who was not working a 9 to 5 job. With the inclusion of women designers during the reconstruction after the fall of the iron curtain, complexes began to be built using a woman’s perspective at every level. These complexes included pram storages and wide stairwells to encourage neighborly interactions, as well as high quality and flexible room layouts with enough height of the building to ensure “eyes upon the street” and protect vulnerable people commuting along the street. In 26 areas in Aspern street lighting was improved. Pavements were also widened for accessible access. Footpaths and lighting were improved in parks that welcomed young women and children to interact and exercise, and benches were constructed to allow elderly people to become a part of the community and spend time away from home. With the inclusion of a woman in the urban planning process, numerous communities besides women benefited from the changes and became active members in the city, improving the reputation, quality, and safety of Aspen.
Women’s representation in urban planning is essential to cities looking to improve their liveability. As active members of the community, they can take into account not only women’s struggles and needs, but also those of children, the elderly, and other unaccounted-for groups. With the inclusion of women from various cultures, people will benefit from the urban planning of the area they occupy and improve the quality of work, health, homes, and safety over time. There will be more opportunities for these typically ignored groups, and in turn, benefit the area. With the advancement of the area, future generations will also continue to care for the community and develop a liveable and comfortable place to live in.