Women of the World Festival 2016

The “Women: Know Your Place” session at the Women of the World (WOW) Festival at London’s Southbank Centre, brought together Clara Greed (University of West of England), Charlotte Morphet (Women in Planning), Maria Wiedner (Real Estate Women), and our Liane to present their own personal take on the challenging question of ‘What cities would look like if women were to plan them’?

For Clara, this title begged the question ‘why are women not happy with cities as they are?’ Traditionally cities have be designed mainly by men, by male architects, city planners, surveyors and engineers, along a primary assumption that ‘everyone’ consists of an able-bodied, young male cyclist or pedestrian, bounding up and down steps and through road systems with ease.  They have reflected and embodied their particular view of what is ‘normal’ and what is convenient.

So what do women want instead? Many women planners and architects want to create accessible, safe, pleasant cities where it is easy to get around without dealing with the urban assault course that confronts many women as they fight their way through the built environment. Charlotte presented some sobering statistics reflecting the gender disparity in the planning and built environment professions which left no uncertainty around the scale of the problem.

Liane believes that cities would not necessarily look different (or better); but they would feel different. She puts this down to the “lens” that women view cities with and that this tends to focus on the “right to the city” and challenges notions of power and who the city is for. A combination of empathy, emotional intelligence, collaboration and consideration that make women more likely to engage a wider spectrum of voices, views and needs in the planning and design process. Women are more sensitive to the needs of the “other” because women have for so long been included in the definition of “other” – i.e., marginalised and excluded or just “not –male”. This makes them more acutely aware of what it is like to have a vulnerability – being smaller, pregnant, with small children etc.,.

Finally would designing cities with women in mind wreak havoc on property market values and the whole real estate industry?  Some women in property have told me that gender does not even come into it as the main aim is ‘to get the best return for the site’ and to achieve high investment returns. But it well may be that property values would be modified by a woman’s viewpoint.

Maria took us in a different direction and posited how women taking a different approach to risk analysis and investment in real estate could lead to more collaborative and sustainable decision-making that take into account longer term gain as opposed to short term rewards.

This debate was also covered by Estates Gazette and the RTPI Blog.

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