Traditionally cities have been designed by men – from architects to city planners, surveyors and engineers – and the primary assumption has been that everyone is an able-bodied young person, going from home to work in a one-dimensional trajectory. The secondary assumption has been that the populace’s main journeys are indeed to and from work.
But from these assumptions come problems. Take the first, that everyone is able-bodied: a lack of stair-free access at transport nodes to assist those with disabilities, children, or even people travelling with luggage turns many people’s journey into a struggle.
And the assumption of the work-home trajectory has led to the unsustainable zoning of residential and economic land uses, which have traditionally been separated in city planning.
How does this affect the cities we live in?
Cities do not take into account all the unacknowledged work that people do. Things like childcare, which can make journeys around cities more complicated. Trip-chain journeys might, for example, start from home, first taking a child to day-care, then dropping off another child at school, before eventually reaching work, with the reverse journey including a supermarket visit before getting home. These activities are not well supported in our urban set-up.
If women were in charge of urban design, would cities look different?
Men and women have different experiences in cities. As more men take a larger role in childcare, they will notice accessibility issues. But women have experienced these for longer. Day-to-day they can be confronted with difficulties manoeuvring pushchairs and buggies around the urban environment. Furthermore, more women work part-time or from home, merging home and office. Some of these experiences relate closely to those with disabilities.
So, if more cities were planned by women they would not necessarily look different, but they would feel different. Women are for the most part more sensitive to the needs of others because they have for so long experienced at least some form of social exclusion. This would make cities more integrated and user-friendly, which could mean they were planned with better transport and more integrated mixed uses.
Would this mean the end of central business districts?
Probably. But these are already being planned out in favour of residential-led, mixed-use schemes. Canary Wharf now has a large residential population to match its economic one and it is planning to expand with the development of Wood Wharf.
What would cities designed by women mean for the property markets?
The diversity inherent in this new way of planning and designing cities would mean that the so-called comparables in the property markets may not be as explicit. Valuers and investors would have even more reasons to debate the “true” value of property. Real estate investment would need a long term strategy beyond the normal five-to-seven years. Long-term investments could lead to stability of property prices and less speculation around future value growth: a more sustainable economic model.
In short, more women could mean less boom and bust as less risk is taken.
Ultimately diversity in the built environment will change cities for the better by adding another lens to development decisions.
The above was authored by Clara Greed, professor of inclusive urban planning at the University of the West of England, Charlotte Morphet, senior consultant at planners Turley, Maria Wiedner, founder and chief executive of Cambridge Finance, and Liane Hartley, founder of Mend and Urbanistas. It is based on their Women: Know Your Place discussion at the WOW Festival.
REWIRE is an EG initiative aimed at recognising and empowering women in real estate. The club is for women from across the built environment and hosts a range of events from workshops and debates to presentations and networking gatherings. To be part of REWIRE, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org