Women have been explicitly taken into account in the design of Vienna for decades. It not only makes the city more pleasant to live in, but also safer. What is the Viennese approach? And how are things in Amsterdam?
Adequate public lighting. Wider sidewalks with more space for pedestrians. Unobstructed view of trails in parks, no dark corners or bushes near hiking trails. Lots of public restrooms.
Urban planner Eva Kail laughs. In fact, she tells her on the phone from Vienna, it all sounds very logical. But in many cities it is not. Well, in the Austrian capital, where the female perspective is constantly taken into account when designing the city, and that has been the case for decades.
Vienna was not only one of the first cities where this happened, but also has a complete focus. Because ‘gender mainstreaming’, the integration of gender equality into daily politics, is common practice. Various departments within the municipality are involved in this.
It has made Vienna an exemplary city and Kail an icon in its field. She started in 1991 for Vienna and Kail, the municipality’s gender planning expert, Kail organized an exhibition on the daily lives of eight completely different women. She made it clear how they use the city and what they found.
For the exhibit, Kail and his colleagues also investigated the use of the road by men and women. “About two-thirds of motorists were men, two-thirds of pedestrians were women,” says Kail. The city turned out to be oriented mainly to the needs of the workers. Especially the men, especially then. “The planologists, often men, barely paid attention to the second group.”
There was one called Frauenbüro, in 1992, with Kail at the helm. She later headed a special planning unit. Kail emphasizes the importance of pilot projects. This allows you to determine what works and what doesn’t. Dozens of them have already been carried out, including Frauen-Werk-Stadt. A residential complex, designed by women architects, in which, among other things, the principle of eyes on the street has been incorporated: the idea that living rooms and kitchens face the street as social control. An extra pair of eyes.
Counter sexual harassment
Incorporating a gender perspective in urban planning can not only make the city more pleasant, but also safer for women. Kail emphasizes that in addition to the design of the public space, other factors, such as the social climate, codes of conduct and education, also play a role. But she can certainly help her, also in Amsterdam.
And that’s not too much: earlier this month a CBS report showed that 77 percent of women between the ages of 12 and 25 are harassed on the street in the four largest cities in the Netherlands. Sociologist Mischa Dekker, who earned her doctorate in street bullying, emphasizes that perpetrators must also be analyzed, or even mainly, through information, for example. However, the layout of the city can certainly play a role, she says, too.
“There are all kinds of blind spots in the design of cities,” says Dekker. “In Paris and Amsterdam I participated in neighborhood screenings. We walked around the neighborhood to see what else could be done. It is about seeing the neighborhood through the eyes of others, in my case LGBTQ people.”
Also other groups
Gender mainstreaming isn’t just about women, says Kail. It is about providing equal opportunities to all. She gives the example of a soccer cage. High fences, lots of metal. It is not very attractive to women, but it is not very attractive to young children either. “When the older children arrive, they are kicked out immediately.”
That is why the sports areas are arranged differently. Can opener. A small adjustment in itself. But all those little tweaks together make the city a good place to live for more people.
Amsterdam is not standing still either. Councilor Marieke van Doorninck (Spatial Planning) wanted to provide space for a female perspective by drafting Environmental Vision 2050, a kind of blueprint for the future of Amsterdam. Out of this ambition came WomenMakeTheCity, a movement that has been involved in all kinds of development projects in the Amsterdam area since 2019.
As in Vienna, this goes beyond women, says Marthe Singelenberg. She is the founder and director of WomenMakeTheCity. “Our perspective is intersectional. We take into account all the factors that determine opportunities in society. That can be gender, or origin, but also physical condition. A highly educated white woman may have more opportunities than a black man in a wheelchair.”
WomenMakeTheCity produced ten recommendations for the environmental vision. These range from better public transport links between city districts to the creation of freely accessible meeting places. It is very similar to the Viennese policy, although there is one important difference: in Amsterdam, gender mainstreaming, or something similar, is not considered a general norm in urban planning.
“We are working on a manual for inclusive urban development,” says Singelenberg. “We don’t exclude men from that, certainly not. We want to add a feminine look. More of the living environment of the residents, less of the stones.”
There is no city like Amsterdam, but many of the issues that concern us also play a role in other parts of the world. In the World City series, we investigate how other cities deal with this.
More and more cities are doing politics
Berlin, Copenhagen, Brussels: other European cities are also looking at the role of gender in urban planning. A well known example is Barcelonawhere Mayor Ada Colau has been emphatically involved with the issue since her appointment in 2015. There was a special section and manual on ‘urban planning for everyday life’, something similar to what Women Make The City is working on, and that also exists in Vienna.
In addition, the construction of so-called superblocks is typical of Barcelona: a set of residential blocks whose surroundings have been made as less busy as possible.
In Stockholm ‘gender sensitive snow removal’ was decided. For example, childcare trails have been addressed before, as have walking routes to bus stops and bike paths, routes that are used more by women, according to statistics. Before that policy change, freeways to downtown were the first to be swept.
Swedish politics was ridiculed, especially when motorists were caught in a major snowstorm. Criticism is more common with such feminist politics, certainly from conservative angles. But plowing not only made the morning walk easier for pedestrians, it also saved money: In the end, there are more accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists than motorists in the snow.