In architecture, one of the first and most basic criteria for a design to be successful is its functionality. But is this line true in many cases? Are urban spaces truly functional? Do our city spaces accommodate women, children, and differently-abled people, the same way as it serves a young, healthy man? Do these spaces look safe for all age groups? Let us try to look into some perspectives of how an urban landscape would look if designed by a woman. Read on to know more.

Urban streets and public safety

Even now, an instruction or rather an order to return home before eight at night is not something uncommon for the teenager. It would not be an exaggeration to say that a number of women travel in fear, in the apprehension of an unanticipated issue. From ill-lit alleyways to extremely desolated dark spaces, it has always been a challenge for women and children. The question is, is it not the social responsibility of an urban planner or an architect to design the urban landscape, keeping in mind the women and children of the society? 

An urban landscape designed by women would surely address this issue with utmost significance. The concept of “eyes on the street” would make people feel safer, which brings us to the need for open, busy streets where there are a plethora of activities going on. Certainly, strict laws against violence against women still have a role to play, but better design layouts are very much significant and in need of the hour. 

How would urban landscape look like if they were designed by female - Sheet1
From ill-lit alleyways to extremely desolated dark spaces, it has always been a challenge for women and children_©www.fabhotels.com/blog/things-to-do-in-mumbai-at-night/

Public toilets 

One of the most common issues for travelling women is the problem of restrooms. Women need to use restrooms more often than men, but the reality seems far different. Sometimes it is the issue of privacy or the unavailability of water that makes it extremely difficult for women to use them. Or even worse, there are cases of female toilets that are totally unusable and redundant. 

When it comes to the urban landscape designed by women, this becomes one of the most important considerations. Privacy, the configuration or the layout, lighting, water supply, dustbins and provision for disposal, and the installation of shelves or hooks to hold personal items are some of the points that need to be taken care of.

How would urban landscape look like if they were designed by female - Sheet2
Privacy, the configuration or the layout, lighting, water supply, all play an important role_©commons.wikimedia.orgwikiFilePhilipsburg_Pay-Per-Use_Public_Restrooms_(6545935153).jpg

The usage of spaces

More than providing safety for women and children, it is crucial to include them in the community so that they can enjoy the space. To make this a reality, there needs to be a segregation of spaces or zones. This brings us to the idea of what the neighbourhood or the community needs. Each community is different. Their needs and requirements are different. Instead of planning a huge park with seating all around looking into the centre, there has to be proper segregation of various zones that would include playing areas, spaces for social interaction, a zone for the elderly, etc. 

An example of this kind of planning can be understood in the city of Barcelona. It takes into account the concept of how everyone uses the space differently. The design trio, Equal Saree, wanted to make a playground where everyone gained equal access to that space. The entire area was divided by pathways and benches. What was again significant was that they provided what the neighbourhood wanted; a swing, a slide, a football area, and a climbing area for the kids. 

How would urban landscape look like if they were designed by female - Sheet3
Segregation of spaces_©www.metalocus.esennewsfem-dissabte-a-la-placa-den-baro-a-feminist-square-designed-childhood-equal-saree

Shopping and other activities

Be it a shopping mall or a shopping street; women get veritably delighted by the concept of shopping. An urban landscape designed by women would consider the streetscape as a space that is busy, attractive and bubbling with energy. It not only serves the purpose of its users but, in turn, helps in the growth of small and medium businesses. Imagine walking down a street that is suffused with an aesthetic blend of various establishments ranging from a cafe or a bakery to probably an exotic handicrafts shop and, of course, a play area for the kids who will always be under the supervision of their parents.

How would urban landscape look like if they were designed by female - Sheet4
A busy streetscape_©commons.wikimedia.orgwikiFileM.G._Marg,_Gangtok_01.jpg

Universal Design

In conclusion, what one needs to understand is that everyone, at some point in their life, experiences some form of disability. A pregnant woman would not be able to climb stairs even if she is healthy. A six-year-old would not be able to use the regular washbasin in public toilets as a general user would. A physically challenged person would not be able to use a staircase. A visually impaired person would find it extremely difficult to navigate without sufficient cues and landmarks.

Any architect designing the urban landscape should make sure that every space should take into account the various requirements of the community. For example, a visually impaired person would need audio signals and Braille block tactile flooring to navigate around. Ramps and elevators have to be placed appropriately in public spaces for anyone with difficulty walking. When it comes to designing restrooms, women and children have to be kept in mind for optimal utilization by the community.

Universal design_©www.nec.comenglobaldesignudindex.html

References:

  1. What would a city designed by women be like? (n.d.). BBC News. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-50269778.
  2. Phillips, V. (n.d.). What Would A City Look Like If It Were Designed Entirely By And For Women? These Places Offer A Glimpse. [online] Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/vickiphillips/2021/03/22/what-would-a-city-look-like-if-it-were-designed-entirely-by-and-for-women-these-places-offer-a-glimpse/?sh=b04f870367e3 [Accessed 6 Apr. 2022].
  3. ‌The Indian Express. (2014). Wanted – A city that suits women. [online] Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/wanted-a-city-that-suits-women/ [Accessed 6 Apr. 2022].
  4. Npr.org. (2020). NPR Choice page. [online] Available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/09/20/762764826/how-to-design-a-female-friendly-toilet.
  5. Name (2018). Indian women are confined to the home – because their cities designed for men. [online] City Monitor. Available at: https://citymonitor.ai/community/equity/indian-women-are-confined-home-because-their-cities-designed-men-4176
Author

Meera Venkatesh, an architectural writer, finds it intriguing to recreate the same experience of space through words. Her love for architectural history has led her to pursue a Master's in History. Someone utters "Indian Heritage"; you may find Meera there! Now, what's her new interest? Writing for RTF!

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