Urban Planning is a gender dominant profession. The presence of male gender prevails in the statistics that clearly show it as a line and in comparison to that of women or women’s preferred presence appears like a dot. There are a number of women urbanists, urban policymakers, urban planners, urban designers, activists, economists, politicians, and social workers that have contributed to the profession of urban planning that hardly gets the appreciation and the limelight that they deserve. The era seems to not have changed much in this regard from Jane Jacobs’ time. 

So here is an attempt to get vocal about the urban planners that deserved limelight for their work who are women.  

1. Esther Hill

Born in Guelph, Ontario Hill became the first woman to graduate from the University of Toronto with a university degree in Architecture. She was keenly interested in design and was driven towards city planning. She had a hard time placing her foot in the profession and received a lot of Backlashes. She started taking classes in urban planning from the University of Toronto. In search of any opportunity to work, She moved to New York City and apprenticed under various people. The great depression only made the struggles of Hill more difficult than it already was and she had to move back to British Columbia. She worked part-time as a drafts-person she weaved, made greeting cards, made gloves, and did everything to bring home some income. She eventually started her own design firm and became the first Canadian woman to be a registered architect. She served on the city planning committee for five years making history for women planners in Canada.

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Esther Hill ©University of Toronto archives
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Esther Hill ©University of Toronto archives
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Esther Hill ©University of Toronto archives

2. Erica Mann

Erica Mann was an Austrian architect turned town planner. She graduated from Beaux-Arts Paris and moved to the British colony – Kenya with her husband to escape Nazi Germany. Soon after she moved to Kenya, the colonial administration had set up a town planning department where on application Mann was appointed. She worked on the city planning of Nairobi with other planners. Soon she was recognized as a talented urban planner and soon became the senior planning and development officer. She went on to make very significant contributions to the planning of Mombasa and other parts of Kenya. Mann saw urban planning as an ideal profession for women as it is driven from the innate desire to provide for a safe, healthy, and engaging environment to live in for her children and family. She continued to work with the independent Kenyan government and retired only to found and serve an NGO called CHEK – Council of Human Ecology – Kenya and worked towards empowering rural women. Her immaculate leadership for the project of women in Kibwezi is renowned for her directorship. Beautiful tree, Severed roots is a beautiful tale of Manns in Kenya, a film by Kenn Mann.

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Erica Mann ©Journals.openedition
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Personal archives of Erica Mann ©Journal.open edition
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Personal archives of Erica Mann ©Journal.open edition
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Personal archives of Erica Mann ©Journal.open edition
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Beautiful tree, severed roots ©journal.open edition
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Beautiful tree, severed roots ©journal.open edition

3. Blanche Lemco Van Ginkel

Lemco Van Ginkel is an English-Canadian urbanist who made remarkable contributions to the planning profession as an educator as well as a practitioner. After graduating with a degree in architecture from McGill University, she briefly joined the studio of Le Corbusier and worked on the Unite d’habitation in Marseille, France. This opportunity offered her exposure to the modernist design concepts which later on she pursued dearly throughout her career. She joined the Harvard school and graduated with a degree in urban planning. Her firm headed projects of the different scales included in them were the design of central Montreal, the urban design of Midtown Manhattan, the development of Pahang Tenggara, Malaysia, and Bowring park in St.Johns. She and her partner were the designers of the international fair expo 67. She is the one to hire Moshe Safdie to design the landmark building Habitat 67. She played an important role as an academician and taught at several institutes including Harvard University, McGill University, University of Pennsylvania, and so on. She is awarded the highest honored award a gold medal by the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada for her contributions to the profession.

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Lemco Van Ginkel portrait ©Archives of Canadianarchitect.com
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Herself with Le corbusier at Unite d’habitation ©Archives of Canadianarchitect.com
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Teaching at university of Pennsylvania ©Archives of Canadianarchitect.com
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Receiving Massey Medal award ©Archives of Canadianarchitect.com
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Site plan for Meadowvale, Ontario ©Archives of Canadianarchitect.com

4. Odilia Suarez 

Suarez was an Argentinian architect, planner, and educator. She studied architecture from the University of Bueno Aires. She later on studied at Taliesin west with Frank Lloyd Wright and explored her drive towards planning. She studied municipal planning from Canada, the United States, and Great Britain. After working briefly with the director of urbanism, she opened her own studio at the University of Bueno Aires itself. She won many design competitions during this time which helped her in paving her path to the postgraduate research program at the university of Bueno Aires. She also secured various scholarships throughout her years in academics. At the time when women were hardly seen in the field, Suarez became the pioneer of women’s presence and professionalism in the field. She served as a president of the city council of urban planners for the city of Bueno Aires and consulted on various projects for the urban design and planning of Argentina. 

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Odilia Suarez ©Eldiario Archives
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Odilia Suarez ©Eldiario Archives
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Odilia Suarez ©Sociaded central de arcquitectos archives
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Odilia Suarez ©Sociaded central de arcquitectos archives

5. Amanda Burden

Amanda Jay Mortimer Burden is the principal at Bloomberg Associates, an international counseling service to help city planning and governments. After pursuing multiple college degrees, she pursued her Master of Urban Planning from Columbia University.  She worked on important urban design projects throughout the time as the project on public spaces. Her notable works in New York include the midtown community court and Red Hook justice center and many more. She was the vice president for one of the very important projects for the city of New York which is Battery Park. She served on the New York City planning commission and also served as a commissioner for over 10 years. She combined a large transformation with Rober Moses that was based on Jane Jacob’s neighborhood sensitive ethnicity. During her tenure, the administration was actively developing the urbanization of the city and drew a significant line of address to terms like gentrification, density distribution, housing development, and so on. She strongly believed that a large project should have a human scale and as believed, her control changed the aesthetics from big and bold to small and humane. She was honored with multiple doctorates and awards by various fraternities. Her Ted talks are generously appreciated by a large group of audience.

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Amanda Burden ©The wall street journal archives
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Amanda Burden ©The wall street journal archives
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Amanda Burden ©The wall street journal archives
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Paley Park and Battery Park NYC ©The wall street journal archives
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Paley Park and Battery Park NYC ©The wall street journal archives

6. Margaret Helfand

Helfand was a New York-based architect and urban planner. She studied at Swarthmore College and the University of California – Berkeley. She attended the architectural association school in London and then went on to pursue her M.arch again from the University of California – Berkeley. After working with Skidmore Owings & Merrill and Marcer Bruel, She started her own firm. She served as president of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects. She is widely renowned for working on large scale and public sector projects during the time where very few women practiced planning and even fewer were involved in large scale projects. Her most renowned one is the center for architecture. She served as a co-chair of the New York Vision which is a civic group that provides consultation to governments regarding urban design and town planning. They were prime advisers for the redevelopment of lower Manhattan after the destruction of the World Trade Center. Her firm won many awards and her work is honored in a monograph published by Monacelli Press.

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Margaret Helfan ©Un Dia Una arquitecta 4 archives
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Margaret Helfan ©Un Dia Una arquitecta 4 archives
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Margaret Helfan ©Un Dia Una arquitecta 4 archives
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Margaret Helfan ©Un Dia Una arquitecta 4 archives

7. Elizabeth Plater

Elizabeth Plater is an American architect and Urban Planner based in Miami, Florida. Born in Pennsylvania, She pursued her bachelor’s degree in architecture as well as urban planning from Princeton. Furthermore, She went to Yale for her post-graduate studies. She co-founded heir firm Arquitectonica with her husband that was renowned for the dramatic expression of high tech modernism. She is a stark expressionist of the new urbanism in the school of thought for planning as well as the new classical school of thought for architecture. The vastly opposing ideologies for both schools is believed in by platter because of the contemporary drive in these respective fields. She became the leader of the New urbanism movement by vocalizing and designing the traditional town planning and carried out many projects to transform the suburbs into liveable towns. She is the founder and board member of the Congress for New urbanism. She has been awarded numerous honorary doctorates as well as awards for her contributions to the field of urban planning as well as architecture. She also has been teaching most of the major design institutions in Northern America.  

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Elizabeth Plater ©University of Miami News and events
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Elizabeth Plater ©University of Miami News and events
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Elizabeth Plater ©The journal of American Institute of Architects
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Elizabeth Plater ©The journal of American Institute of Architects

8. Ellen Dunham

Ellen Dunham Jones is an architectural educator and urbanist who has contributed immensely to the literature of urban design and development. She graduated from Princeton with an A.B degree in architecture and planning. She further pursued a Master’s in architecture. She is also a professor and coordinator of a Master’s in Science at the Georgia Institute of technology. She has many research, publications, and courses under her name and guidance. She has been featured in many design magazines for her work mainly about linking the contemporary theories and design for urban development. She is the former chairperson of the congress for the new urbanism. Her focus area of research and teachings is helping community upliftment to fight the challenges of the 21st century. Her success story lies in the suburban retrofits through a series called – retrofitting Suburbia. She became well known for re-educating the engagement with the environment. She has a strong interest in ecological urbanism with a focus on climate change and suburban blight.

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Ellen Dunham ©Upenn archives
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Ellen Dunham ©Georgia institute of technology
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Ellen Dunham ©Pricetags.ca
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Ellen Dunham ©Ecosistema urbano magazine

9. Janette Sadik Khan

‘If you can change the street, you can change the world’ is the strong belief of one of the most successful transportation designers and policymakers. Janette Sadik Khan was born in California and moved to New York City. She graduated with a BA in political science from Occidental College, L.A. and later from the School of Law, Columbia University. She served as commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation. She is an ambitious leader transforming various urban areas by the redevelopment of transportation systems and the streets with the focus on making the neighborhood more friendly, safe, and sustainable. She also serves as the chairperson of the National association of city transportation officials which is working with the transportation of 40 cities in the USA. She worked on important projects like the pedestrianization of times square, redesigning broadway and Columbus circle, etc. During her tenure, almost 60 miles of the bicycle lane and over 60 plazas were added to the urban design of New York City. She is the developer of the first ‘street design manual’ and ‘street works manual’ for an expectation of more interactive and attractive streets. She also is an author of the book Street Fight: Handbook for an urban revolution.

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Janette Sadik Khan ©jsadikkhan.com
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Janette Sadik Khan ©jsadikkhan.com
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Janette Sadik Khan ©The environment show

10. Toni L. Griffin

Toni Griffin is an urban planner widely known for ‘Detroit future city’ a city-wide framework of urban transformation with comprehensive planning and design. She is the founder of urban planning and design for the American cities which is based in New york. Griffin is a professor at the practice of urban planning at Harvard and is the founding director of J. Max Bond Center on Design for the Just City at the Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York. Her center has made significant contributions to the research of the urban design of American cities. She also authored multiple books. She has been in leadership roles for multiple redevelopment projects in New Jersey and Washington D.C. and has played a vital role in the redevelopment of numerous neighborhoods. She is currently working on two major projects—an urban greenway network and economic development plan for the city of St.Louis, M.O.

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Toni Griffin ©Harvard Graduate school of design archives
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Toni Griffin ©Harvard Graduate school of design archives

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The just city essays ©Just City Lab
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The just city essays ©Just City Lab
Author

Aditi is an Architecture graduate from Nirma University, currently pursuing her masters from NYIT - Manhattan. She is an outspoken researcher for women in urbanism. City scapes and their stories fascinate her. Her bandwidth of thoughts oscillates between history and poetry. Strongly believes that travelling is the best way to escape oblivion.

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