Metro Cities

Designing better cities for women (and all)

As long as there have been cities, there have been women. But that’s not always obvious when looking at the pieces that make up urban life.

Andres Plana

From street names to transit transfer policies, the lives and needs of women are often overlooked when cities are built. On the eve of International Women’s Day, here are six ways cities can be made better for all.

1. Wider sidewalks: It must be said that many initiatives billed as making cities better for women are rooted in gender stereotypes, such as women pushing baby strollers. But, still, wider sidewalks help anyone with a stroller, wheelchair or walker move about more easily.

2. Brighter streets: The evidence isn’t clear cut on whether brighter streets are safer, with some saying it enables criminals. But when it comes to preventing crime that disproportionately affects women, organizations including the UN have pushed for more light.

3. More washrooms: Equal, easy access to clean, well-equipped toilets (i.e. with garbage bins, and, hey, free tampons if you’re feeling generous) is still out of reach in many cities, in both public and private buildings. Not to mention the scarcity of stalls at sports stadiums.

4. Flexible fares: Studies show men and women use transit differently, as women still take on most household chores, like school runs and groceries. This often means less straightforward trips. Time-based fares could lower the costs for those zig-zag trips.

5. Fair playgrounds: A study found that after age nine, little girls were crowded out of parks by boys, who more boldly claimed space. To address in a small way the systemic issue of men being socialized to be more assertive, planners made parks with more and varied play areas.

6. Stature on statues: With only one in five city statues in Toronto depicting women and similarly dismal numbers when it comes to park and street names across other Canadian cities, advocates have pushed in recent years to have equal representation.

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