Should gender play a bigger role in city design?

24 Aug

University of Melbourne students investigated how cities can be more gender ‘inclusive’, as part of a travelling design studio to Montreal, Canada in July/August 2011 (from

The sixteen Masters students from the Melbourne School of Design will join ten graduate students from McGill University & Carleton University in getting hands-on experience in how city planning can be utilized to take advantage of the different experiences of men and women.

The students will immerse themselves in a rapidly changing post-industrial neighbourhood in Montreal, Pointe St. Charles, which is similar to Footscray in Melbourne.  They will also learn about the results of  the “Gender Inclusive Cities Program”, funded by the UN Trust Fund to Eliminate Violence Against women.

The program, now in its third year, has been working across four cities in India, Argentina, Russia and Tanzania to create better local government policies and programs to prevent gender-based violence.  The program is coordinated by Women in Cities International, an organization based in Montreal that is providing some of the lectures for this studio.

Co-studio leader Associate Professor Carolyn Whitzman said the trip would change the way our future planners understand how cities work.  “There is increasing evidence that while women and men experience cities in different ways, the traditional built environment professions have been ‘gender blind’.”

“Using the former industrial neighbourhood of Pointe St. Charles in Montreal as a case study, we want the students to explore different perceptions of the uses of public space, both internationally and in Australia, and how they help or hinder the experiences of men and women.”

Associate Professor Whitzman, author of the Handbook of Community Safety, Gender and Violence Prevention: Practical Planning Tools, said gender planning in urban environments is an often-overlooked area of design. “Many communities around the world, including those in Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, are facing increased pressure to make their communities safer and more livable. The solution requires a combination of design and social interventions, relying on the expertise of people who are living in the neighbourhood and who quite often can suggest very common sense ways of improving the lives of women.”

“The UN project has worked in each city to develop a common ‘baseline’ study of gender-based violence and harassment in public space.  This has been done using street surveys, focus group discussions and women’s safety audits. Local women’s organizations have then been working with local government decision-makers to develop appropriate policy and intervention programs that can help prevent public violence against women.”

“Montreal will provide these students with another case study as to how important these relationships are, and urban planning can be used for the public good when it comes to these issues.”

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Also, check out the link below to hear Associate Professor of urban design Carolyn Whitzman and sociologist Dr Kalpana Viswanath, with host Jennifer Cook, discuss how urban environments can be designed and modified to make them safer for women (transcript included):

“Sometimes it’s hard to get gender inserted in more than a tokenistic way.” — Associate Professor Carolyn Whitzman




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