A City That is Friendly to Women is Friendly to Everyone
Cities provide people with a relatively safe and comfortable living environment, convenient transportation, resources for self-development, and places for leisure and entertainment.
But is it the same for everyone?Women face greater safety risks when using public transportation at night, elderly people have difficulty climbing stairs with their wheelchairs, and children have a hard time finding a space to play freely in residential areas.
Our streets and squares are constantly being rebuilt for “higher, faster, and stronger” purposes, and these masculine renovations exclude vulnerable or special-needs groups from their living space.
Feminist cities aim to improve the living environment of these people through a series of planning measures. “Caring for everything” is the foundation of Blanca Valdivia’s urban feminism.
Blanca Valdivia is a founding member of the female architecture design team Collectiu Punt 6. She published the book “Feminist Urbanism,” advocating for a complete change in living space and incorporating gender perspectives into urban planning. She and her studio propose reform plans for public space, territorial planning, facilities, and mobility from four aspects: production, reproduction, community, and individual.
She is one of the few urban planning scientists who have collaborated with the government to put theoretical research into practice. She has worked with the Catalan government three times to diagnose and provide solutions for urban women’s safety, promote experimental projects for male and female children’s education resources, and collaborated with the Latin American Development Bank of Buenos Aires’ Transportation and Public Works Department to study how to establish female-friendly transportation facilities in Latin America. She also led the Mediterranean Feminist City Movement and built a research and practice network with scientists from nine different countries. It can be said that she is a true practitioner in creating a friendly city for women, so in her projects, we can always find practical methods.
Even if you are not a decision-maker in urban development, you can still find practical tips from her proposals to contribute to creating a more friendly city.
Are Women Safe in Cities?
As writer Anne Michaud pointed out, if a woman is raped on a street where all the residents are women, it is actually all women who bear the consequences because they can empathize and feel the fear.
However, in the past, there was little planning focused on addressing the issue of women’s safety in cities. In order to understand the real needs and voices of women, Collectiu Punt 6 first gathered representatives of women in residential areas to mark their daily activity areas, travel routes, and preferred travel times on a map. They then conducted 44 exploratory walks on the streets of Catalonia and Valencia with these women to investigate which physical and social factors affect women’s sense of safety on the streets at different times of the day.
After repeated field investigations and discussions, Blanca and her team found that there was still too little lighting on the streets, and some remote areas had no lighting at all, making it more difficult for women to go out at night. Some obstructive infrastructure made people uneasy, such as opaque billboards that made it difficult to see if someone was behind them. There were many blind spots in surveillance, and the safety of solo travelers was not guaranteed…
This survey report made the government, communities, and others aware of the sense of insecurity that women, or vulnerable groups, feel in cities. Ultimately, it prompted communities to establish more signs that combine voice and image, and use non-discriminatory language, to help women and people with special needs accurately identify their location, so that they no longer have to be afraid of getting lost and not daring to go out.
Cooperative Housing with a Feminist Perspective
Although personal housing is relatively private, it is still an extension of the male power distribution system. For example, women spend twice as much time as men taking care of their families every day, but laundry rooms, kitchens, and various storage rooms are often small and enclosed, and no one cares about how to protect the rights and emotions of these women.
As Princess Cristina of Spain said, ” People’s lives, especially women’s lives, are not fragmented, but constantly shifting between time and space. ” Col·lectiu Punt 6’s “Women’s Co-Living” project is committed to building a community support and care network around housing, providing women with support in public environments, cooperation, private life, and other aspects.
This project has absorbed some of the experiences of previous feminist communities, such as the Uruguayan feminist community MUJEFA and the feminist community La Morada organized by women and LGBT groups in Barcelona. They propose a concept of community members supporting each other beyond the traditional nuclear family. In addition, they also adopted the methods of the feminist community La Reneg, which is centered on “care” and provides low-cost housing for vulnerable women.
In this co-living project, Col·lectiu Punt 6 wants to establish an environment where work and housework are equally valued. In this project, previously neglected household labor is now treated equally, the area of housework and storage rooms is expanded, and shared cleaning and care services are provided. Household chores are brought into public areas, and more infrastructure is installed in the area to provide convenience and emotional value to people, such as benches and nursing spaces.
Although most girls in cities are not deprived of their right to education, school infrastructure is still designed primarily for male needs, such as larger sports fields and less outdoor protection. These factors invisibly reduce the educational resources available to girls.
Children’s gender concepts are shaped by their environment. Through careful observation and experience in their daily lives, reading, and games, they gradually develop their own gender awareness. Therefore, potential male-centeredness should be avoided in school education. For example, boys of the same age may be more willing to compete for territory on the playground and participate in competitive sports. On the other hand, girls may not be as interested in “competition” and may prefer to participate in quieter handicrafts or board games. However, schools often lack corresponding facilities, causing girls to miss out on many opportunities to play.
The co-ed school plan aims to balance the inequality between gender, age, background, and functional diversity in schools. Researchers observe how children behave in class and interact with teachers, what games they play on the playground, how they relate to each other, and their food preferences and eating habits in the cafeteria.
As part of the project, Col·lectiu Punt 6 has set up “quiet entertainment areas” in schools for children who want to do handicrafts and read quietly. They promote less intense sports such as chess, dodgeball, and jogging. They also create natural spaces where children can observe plant growth and play with small animals. They decorate the walls of sports fields with murals to cultivate aesthetic appreciation. They organize students to participate in community activities during school open days.
Why is a feminist city important?Because everyone experiences setbacks and vulnerability as a minority at some point.
Building a female-friendly city is essentially building a city that is friendly to everyone, a city that allows vulnerability to exist and provides support for it. It is a city that cares about us, our environment, and allows us to care for ourselves and others. Only by getting rid of the invisible pressure brought by gender binary can we prioritize the sustainability of life and let care flow between individuals and the public.
From August 25th to 27th, Blanca will attend the MINDPARK Creative Conference 2023 to share her experience and insights on how to build a friendly city. You are welcome to chat with her.
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From August 25th to 27th,
We’ll see you in Shenzhen.