What does urban planning look like through a feminist lens and why is feminism a crucial element in city building?

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I need to start this blog by clarifying a few things. Feminism is not a dirty word. Feminism is not a man-hating body of ideals, and feminism’s objective is not to push a matriarchal society where men are slaves. Feminism is also not a system that women make up for themselves to keep themselves oppressed (yes, I’ve heard that before, too). What feminism is is a diverse range of movements with the common goal of achieving equal rights, status, and opportunities for women.

You may wonder ‘how does this differ from egalitarianism?’ Feminism is a specific type of egalitarianism which focuses on the equality of women. You can be an egalitarian and you can be feminist. These two ideologies are not mutually exclusive. The same logic applies to the many different kinds of feminism: black feminism, religious feminism, liberal and conservative feminism, etc. I want to clarify that this blog post will be written with an intersectional feminist perspective, meaning my writing will come from a place that supports equal rights, status, and opportunities for women of all identities. Additionally, I want to add that feminism is not just for women. Feminism also aims to liberate men for the benefit of gender justice.

Now that we know, to an extent, what feminism is and what it generally aims to achieve, we can ask ourselves important questions like: how does this manifest itself in the context of urban planning? Why is it important that we achieve feminist goals while developing policies? What does a feminist city or community look like and how does all of this benefit me? Let’s start digging to find out.

So, what does a feminist community look like? It can be pretty hard to describe what a city ‘looks like’ because a city is more of an entity that you experience, and depending on who you are you can experience it very differently from another. I’ll do my best to capture feminist urban planning decisions and structures in words that create images in your mind, in no particular order or organization:

  • A feminist city is well lit, allowing all to feel safe when they travel at dark times. These lights shouldn’t only prioritize streets where cars drive, but also sidewalks, parks, off-grid paths, parking lots, alleys, bus stops, and the like. A city that works to promote safety is a city where women, men, the elderly, and children all feel safe.
  • A feminist city is one that incorporates alternative transportation modes throughout its neighbourhoods and sectors, allowing the choice to travel how you want to work, home, daycare, the park, the recreation centre, and everywhere in between. It is feminist to include bike lanes (and adequate supplies of bike parking), side walks (which are promptly plowed in the winter), and an effective and affordable bus transportation system to accommodate and equate the opportunity to travel through all modes, because owning and maintaining a car is often too expensive for a lot of people.
  • A feminist city is one that optimizes land use for women and parents. This can be seen in a lot of ways — go out into your downtown or take a look at Google Maps. Are there day care facilities near office buildings? Are there men’s and women’s shelters with enough beds nearby essential services? Is there a women’s sexual health clinic where a woman feels safe and free from judgement walking to the doors? Is there a place where women can safely and legally sell sex work? Are all of these facilities/places nearby a bus stop and are these facilities physically accessible for all? Take a look at your city — what would you change to make services more accessible for women of all ages?
  • A feminist city is one that has diverse options for living accommodations in the city’s housing market, including an adequate amount of affordable housing units. These units should be close to essential city services (like the ones mentioned above), as well as places for shopping, leisure, and natural areas.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Because feminism is a global movement spanning different cultures and socio-political contexts, a city’s feminist structure may look different in Bangladesh than it does in my hometown of Belleville, Ontario. However, I think that a city with these structures in place accomplishes an acceptable minimum of a feminist ideology through urban planning and urban design. However, feminist urban planning should not limit itself to merely existing through structure; it is important to foster feminist policy when planning a city. Here is a (again, non-exhaustive) list on how that could be achieved:

  • Encouraging women to participate in urban planning information sessions by hosting them after work hours or on weekends in accessible-by-transit places;
  • Supporting a woman’s goal to open a local business with special programs and fostering a community of local small business owners that offer assistance, advice, and promote the business (potentially through a Business Improvement Area committee);
  • Developing focus-groups to gather the input from targeted groups on proposed developments – women, minorities, Indigenous peoples, and those experiencing poverty. Depending on the development, other groups should be consulted including the elderly, single parents, etc. These focus groups should be consulted via design charrettes to collaborate on alternatives means to achieve project goals;
  • Considering women’s and LGBTQ2IA+ rights issues when developing urban policy. How do you accomplish this? Consult, consult, consult. Planners may be the experts on how to achieve a result, but those with marginalized voices have stories to tell on what is needed to be achieved;
  • Supporting women and minorities running in municipal elections. Feminists in leadership roles is the best way to ensure feminist city building;
  • Protecting public spaces for the benefit of constructive protests. I say this after the Charlottesville, Virginia protests that featured disgusting acts of racism resulting in violence and death. Protests are meant to be a civil way of exercising free speech, and it is important that we protect public spaces to accomplish that goal while actively suppressing the expression of hate speech twisted as free speech. The public square is one of the most historically valuable and important places in cities around the world; marginalized voices especially can not afford to lose public spaces in their communities;
  • And on the topic of public spaces: planners must to their best to inhibit street harassment. Street harassment is a pervasive act that happens all too often in any (honestly, probably every) city that tears women down even in the most casual of acts – walking by while reading a book, pushing a stroller and child to the toy store, sitting on public transit, you name it. This is a difficult issue to tackle as a planner because it is almost impossible to stop someone from saying something destructive or abusive regardless of the environment they are in. Some cities and community groups are trying their best with poster campaigns, stressing loitering limits, building to enable informal social control (citizens looking out for other citizens), and employing on-duty police officers on downtown streets. It is important, first and foremost, that planners begin to recognize this is an issue that destroys the social quality of streets for women especially, and that planners begin to tackle reported problematic areas with solutions that work best for their city or for that specific neighbourhood.

Okay, now that we have some things in mind in how we can begin to achieve the ultimate feminist goal of gender and sexual equality in our cities and communities, let’s address why it is important that we foster feminist communities in the first place. To answer this, let’s remind ourselves that the definition of feminism is essentially the pursuing of the advancement of women from marginalized to equal through their rights, status, and opportunities in society.

It’s my belief that change begins within communities, then reverberates up and out into bigger and better changes that have larger impacts on greater populations. So I think it’s essential that, in order to achieve feminist goals as a global society, we must initiate and foster feminist change within our homes and communities as a preliminary building block. Promoting feminist interests through planning policy and urban design are only the start to making the world a better place that protects the rights, status, and opportunities for women at a pace that already exists for men. Also, we all want to feel safe, included and engaged in our city, right?! So let’s adopt feminist policies! Let’s empower marginalized voices to make a better, safer, and more inclusive city for all to live, work, and play in.

Do you think your city looks like what is described in this post? Do you think your city is missing something that you need to make you feel safer, more included, and lifted up? Write to your councilors! Express your concerns! You are a citizen, regardless of your race or gender or sex or identity, and you deserve to be heard.

Here are some interesting links to take a look at:

Everyday Feminism – 10 FAQs about Feminism

Project for Public Spaces – What Role can Design Play in Making Safer Parks?

The Establishment – The Shocking Connection between Street Harassment and Street Lighting

Safety, dignity, and urban policy: “Safe Access Zones” in Australia

Crime Prevention through Urban Design (or CPTED): What is it and how does it operate?

Personal Creed 2017

For some time, I’ve been mulling over what I want to do with my life. That’s what 20-year-olds are supposed to do, right? When I was 19 it seemed like I could just ponder different paths and avenues. While I can definitely still do that, it feels like there is more pressure to just get on with it already. I’ve hit a whole new decade of demands and desires, and it’s time to jump on in.

Up until recently, I’ve always considered myself to be someone who doesn’t finish things. I definitely started a lot of things; when I was younger I started colouring in a colouring book, in my mid-teens I started learning sign language, I started diary entries and finished them early, and also never finished the book with entries that were left like mould in my head. I picked up a guitar and that lasted for a good chunk of five years, but now it’s collecting dust. What happened? I consider myself a motivated and passionate person, but I still end up thinking back to all of this guilt that comes with leaving a project behind.

It was only recently that I learned that all of this was okay, and that I was only doing this in an attempt to find something I was purely interested in and committed to. I didn’t realize it for a couple of years, but there are some passions in my life that had remained constant and I look forward to those passions outlining prominent goals in my future. I’ve learned to forgive myself for these unfinished things because I was searching for a sense of direction. I’m very happy I tried a lot of things because, by a process of elimination, I feel like I for sure know what it is I want to do. I want to make the world a better place.

It’s ambiguous. It’s hippie-sounding. It’s bold. Although it also sounds too dreamy, I didn’t come to this conclusion lightly. I came to it rather seriously, because making the world a better place should require a sincere amount of commitment. Frankly, at this point, it should take everything we’ve got. Like I said, I didn’t come to this lightly; after just a couple years of studying planning, I’ve developed a vague plan in my head for how I personally want to make my mark in my society. This plan has been one of my constant passions; one which I have not even once considered abandoning. I want to work in the public sector. I have to. I feel like it’s a life calling. You can consider me closed minded, to which I will note that I have experienced private sector work as it relates to landscape architecture, and I don’t see that work as part of my long-term goals. I want to work for government; I want to be the voice for the people. I need to do this.

If you look at my Twitter account today, you will see that I am actively politically engaged. This is only a response to my interest of what I want to become. This engagement in social issues surrounding situations like poverty, climate change, and accessibility did not just happen like the flick of a wrist. In my early high school days, I took a civics course as every Ontarian student does. I was instructed to find an issue that my city’s governance was attempting to solve. In addition to outlining the issue and the councilors’ suggestions to solving it, I was to also provide a suggestion about how to solve this issue. This was, I think, my first formal introduction to planning; my first formal attempt at making my community a better place.

Like I said before, my passions only recently hit me as a constant interest that I had not yet abandoned. This happened in a way that made me realize that these passions had creeped up on me over the years after that civics course as that constant interest. In grade 10, I participated in a walk through the downtown core of Belleville, my home town. During this walk, we discussed how the downtown could benefit from artistic changes or additions to the built environment. I and my class were bubbling with ideas – murals on that brick wall! A water fountain in this cement block! – and it was only a couple months after that day that I realized I wanted to learn about what seemed to be my current interest – how to develop communities.

I experience this interest as an addictive yearning to solve problems for the betterment of society. I frequent social media to find, for example, where pedestrian accessibility is impacted, and sit for a minute and just think about that situation in its entirety. I love developing my opinions of what cities are doing right and what they are doing wrong, and pondering what I would do to organize a solution to this issue. Over the years this has developed into something I am now determined to continue: making the world a better place by influencing community change as a public servant.

 

In the City’s Image: City Slogans and Mottos

To help guide my blog for the next month or so while I gear up for exam season, I’ve decided to start a little series of smaller blog posts which will discuss the images of cities around the world. Lots of pieces fit together like a puzzle to create a city’s image, and I want to examine certain aspects of this kind of puzzle and comment on some examples from around the world. This time I will be discussing city mottos; be ready to read about city flags, demonyms, and landmarks later on, too.

I want to start this one off by asking a question. What do you think of something when it is described as ‘technically beautiful?’ Something that would come to my mind is maybe a piece of art that is technically done very well in its composition and creation, but it just doesn’t sit with me very well. So, it could be argued as technically beautiful, but the personal connection to it just isn’t there for me. Something that you may not think of when you hear this term is Ottawa, Ontario; I bring that up because ‘technically beautiful’ was actually Ottawa’s slogan in 2001, believe it or not. If you cringed at that, then you would agree that slogans have an impact on the creation (or ruin) of a city’s image.

In order for a slogan or motto to effectively market a city, the use of language must be perfectly accurate. (Keep in mind that typically a motto is an historically created name, thus usually isn’t there to market the city but provide a small description of it. Slogans are much more of the marketing material.) Obviously, the word ‘technically’ was not the best choice for Ottawa. Though it may have been somewhat true to a lot of people that Ottawa is technical beautiful, the word ‘technically’ has widely understood connotations which change its meaning to something more sarcastic. A more definite word choice would have possibly been ‘absolutely beautiful’ or ‘almighty beautiful’ where there is no (or at least very little) room for interpretation.

A slogan isn’t just a marketing tactic that appeals to a city’s beauty, though. While beauty is an excellent thing to market (because no one wants to travel to a city that is ugly), a lot of cities incorporate their main industries and histories in their slogans. For example, Kitchener’s motto is ‘prosperity through industry,’ reflecting on the industrious heritage that has contributed to its growth.

Regardless of what city’s merits contribute to its motto or slogan, a city’s slogan has a big effect on its tourism and image as far as it is marketed. Below I’ve included links if you’re curious to read some silly, odd, or brilliant city mottos:

National Post – Canada’s Best, Worst, and Most Confusing City Slogans

City Lab – [American] City Slogans

Wikipedia List of City Mottos

Some favourites from the Wikipedia list:
Karawang, Indonesia: ‘Struggle starting point.’ At least they’re honest.
Valletta, Malta: ‘The most humble city.’ Well, not really now.
Falkirk, Scotland: ‘Strike one, strike all – easier fight with the devil than the children of Falkirk.’ 100% badass motto.

Katie on Silly Planning Jargon

Happy new year!

To start off the blog in the new year, I want to address how people talk about cities, what buzzwords exist in planning, and what words I think should be tossed or at least redefined when it comes to talking about cities structures and its people. Planning-related jargon is interesting to think about, because I believe that planning should be very accessible to the residents of a city. Thus, the words planners use should be specific enough to the profession yet also understandable to the average Joe participating at public meetings about the city’s next infrastructure project, for example.

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This post was inspired by this article, and I want to challenge a point the article makes: what I didn’t agree with was its stance on the use of ‘pedestrians’ and ‘cyclists.’ The author suggests that instead of using these catch-all terms, it is important to make a more human connection when describing a person on a bike or a person walking down the street, and that ‘pedestrian’ or ‘cyclist’ promotes a faceless and unknown entity without feelings or opinions.

I find this just silly. When someone describes a person walking on the sidewalk as opposed to driving on the road, it is important to make that distinction, especially when planning for the future of cities and their neighbourhoods. To call motorists and cyclists and pedestrians all ‘neighbours’ or ‘city residents’ or just simply ‘people’ really loses its meaning when you require the distinction in order to understand where sidewalks are more important than wide roads and where cyclist lanes are needed. Without specifying that there are a lot of cyclists riding along a certain avenue, it is difficult to plan for the future infrastructure of that area. I think attaching a ‘human aspect’ to these words is asking for a little too much when simply describing a city, and is a little irrelevant. It isn’t too hard to remember that someone who is a pedestrian can also be a cyclist next day and a motorist the day before. Of course, the author suggests that ‘people on bikes’ and ‘people walking’ is a better alternative, but what is the difference? They are completely synonymous with saying ‘pedestrians’ and ‘cyclists.’ It’s also important to consider that being concise is key when discussing planning related issues. Call them what you will, but I will be continuing on with ‘pedestrian’ and ‘cyclist’ for a long time.

I know a friend who will thank me for putting this on my list: ‘Creative Class.’ Creative Class is a term defined by urban theorist Richard Florida as the collection of professionals who think, work, and act in a way that is creative, innovative, and contemporary and who Florida predicts will revitalize America’s post-industrial cities. People living within this psuedosocioeconomic class are theorized to be working in occupations that concern graphic design, programming, and engineering (as part of the ‘Super Creative Core’ subset) or more knowledge-based jobs including healthcare, business, law, and education (as part of the ‘Creative Professionals’ subset).

I don’t sit well with this theory. I don’t think it accurately encompasses one socioeconomic class like Florida suggests – think of all of the people working as engineers, graphic designers, lawyers, business owners, nurses, and teachers – would you think that they can all be defined within the same boundaries? I don’t really think this is accurate. Also, something that seems odd to me is Florida’s ‘Gay Index’ (yes, you read that right) with which he suggests that cities who are more tolerant of gays have a higher proportion of people who fit the Creative Class definition. Whether this is true or not, it would be irresponsible of planners to plan for gay people while attracted to the correlations between the gay population and the city’s innovation through a pseudoclass of people. I mean, that’s just way too specific of a thing to even attempt to integrate and promote within the city’s infrasturcture and policies anyway.

I suppose it helps my argument (to say this classification of people needs to be tossed) that some social scientists have debunked his theories (even with his own metrics – whoops!) If you are also interested in the criticism of this theory, please read one of my favourite readings from first year: The Ruse of the Creative Class. In the meantime, it’s definitely been my opinion for a while that this theory is rather baseless and vague; ‘Creative Class’ needs to be tossed.

Another word that makes me feel like I have an itch I can’t scratch is when developers and politicians say that when they build developments they are ‘building communities.’ Something important to understand is that a community is not simply built when a bunch of houses are built in a row. A community is a social element constructed over time from neighbourly interactions. A community is not created by the developers. A community is created in part by you. It’s great of developers to have that idea in mind, but the wording should be changed as it is misleading: they are simply setting a precedent for the existence of a community which will consistently evolve over time. It is similar to realtors selling ‘homes;’ they just aren’t the same thing.

Another word is vibrant, as in a city is ‘vibrant.’ What does that even mean? How does a city become vibrant? Isn’t every city ‘vibrant’ in its own way, anyway? How can you attached one city-related definition to this?

I think the problem with city planning jargon is that its definitions are loose. This makes sense, because every city is different. Each city has people, districts, highways, and neighbourhoods, however they are all structured differently which attract people in different ways. Thus, the transferability of these words can become foggy, but at the same time it is a whole new difficult task to come up with jargon for each city, which just would not work. I am not super happy with terms like ‘new urbanism’ or ‘smart cities’ because their definitions are so vague, but it’s important to consider that their definitions have to be vague so that each city can use them in the way that optimizes how the public understands it. To me, that’s the most important part, because I think public understand is a part of public participation: when a resident is able to actually understand what the heck their politicians are talking about, they can appreciate their city in new ways.

Some extra links to enlighten the way you think and talk about planning:

Planetizen – Good Jargon and Bad

Smarter Growth – Urban Design Buzzwords to Know

Spacing – Before Participation, Education

Mez Dispenser – Attack of the Three-Storey Podium

 

 

 

 

Katie on Cities – ‘Velkomin!’

I am not exactly sure how to introduce this blog, because I am not exactly sure of what this blog will become. My intentions lie in discussing cities, but as an undergraduate studying urban and regional planning who has not declared any specific interests in certain avenues of the planning world, there are no limitations as to specific topics that this blog will focus on.

As of right now, I find I am interested in local history and social planning — how people interact with their environment and how their environment influences their daily decisions. However I could and likely will also comment on urban design, land use, and city politics; this blog is a way of exploring what I am interested in within and surrounding cities.

Understanding what perspective I am coming from would be important in assessing why my point of view is my point of view, because everyone experiences a city differently. My name is Katie Turriff, and I am currently in my second year at the University of Waterloo studying Urban and Regional planning. Though I spend my time and money in Kitchener-Waterloo, I consider my home base to be in Belleville, just a five hour drive Eastbound, where I was born and grew up.

Belleville is a city the size of approximately 49 000 people; about 1/10th the size of the metro here (Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge). The demographics are very different here, too: Waterloo is so much more diverse and, of course with two university and some-odd colleges, there is a huge presence of students here than in Belleville, which boasts only Loyalist College. Belleville is much more of a baby-boomer town — so you can imagine how much more I fit in here than there.

Because of my Bellevillian roots, anticipate reading about a lot of comparisons between Belleville and Southwestern Ontario, along with commentaries on planning articles and on what is going on in cities around me and around the world.

I will try to update this blog weekly at the very least.