‘Gender mainstreaming’

Urban planner creates ‘feminist utopia’ by designing public spaces with women in mind

Urban planner Eva Kail. (YouTube/URBANACT)

The neighborhood of Aspern in Vienna, Austria, has quietly become the world’s leader in the practice of “gender mainstreaming” — an approach to urban planning that seeks to ensure women and men are accounted for equally in policy, legislation and resource allocation.

Eva Kail, a world-famous expert in gender mainstreaming and strategic planner for Vienna, told The Guardian that cities had long been designed solely by “white, middle-class men” who sought to optimize the lives of working men and “car drivers in the city who looked like them.” But during her time heading Vienna’s first women’s office, the Frauenburo (which Kail has called “a little bit of a feminist utopia”) in the 1990s, she discovered that while men were accounted for two in three car journeys in the city, women were making up two-thirds of the city’s foot traffic.

The lesson, Kail says, was simple. “If you want to do something for women, do something for pedestrians,” she explained.

In 1992, Kail’s Frauenburo was given the chance to put her ideas into action with the creation of Frauen-Werk-Stadt (Women-Work-City), a 357-unit complex deliberately designed to improve the quality of women’s everyday lives. At the time, Vienna was rapidly expanding to the tune of 10,000 new apartments per year, but none of the other 30-odd projects underway in the city at the time had even invited a woman to pitch a design. Kail, by contrast, invited solely women architects to pitch potential blueprints for her project. The result? A massive success, and the beginning of a movement to gender-mainstream the whole city.

Since then, Kail has actively worked on pedestrian friendly measures that include improved street lighting, foot-traffic prioritizing traffic lights, wider sidewalks, more benches, and fewer barriers that would obstruct strollers, wheelchair users, and the elderly. In 1999, she reversed two parks’ declining usage by girls by redesigning them with well-lit footpaths and new facilities, such as volleyball courts, to provide an alternative to the male-dominated basketball courts. In 2005, her success was recognized by the city through the implementation of gender-sensitivity guidelines for all parks citywide based on her efforts.

At 240 hectares, by the time the neighborhood of Aspern is complete, in 2028, it will be home to 20,000 people, plus another 20,000 workplaces, and with an explicitly family-oriented design — and with every street and public space named for women, including Hannah Arendt Platz, Janis Joplin Promenade, Ada Lovelace Strasse, Madame d’Ora Park and more, chosen by 30 experts.

Watch Eva Kail speak about gender-aware redesign of public spaces in the URBANACT video below:

Read the full story at The Guardian.

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