Showcase in Planning & Gender Equality: Vienna, Austria

Despite the presence of women in the field of urban planning there are very few aspects of urban planning that are predominantly designed with women in mind. It’s not that urban planners are specifically designing places for men - it’s that they aren’t specifically reaching out to women for their opinions. The shift in planning to make policies that equally benefit both men and women is called gender mainstreaming.

Gender mainstreaming was defined by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as “the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies, or programmes, in any area and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic, and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally, and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.”

Gender mainstreaming isn’t a new idea, in fact the definition above was agreed upon at a 1997 ECOSOC meeting tasked with creating a plan for mainstreaming the gender perspective into all policies and programs in the United Nations system.

Since then, Vienna, Austria, has done some of the most innovative planning focused on gender equality. The focus on gender mainstreaming in Vienna started in 1991 when a group of city planners, led by Eva Kail, organized a photography exhibit titled “Who Owns Public Space - Women’s Everyday Life in the City.” It focused on the daily routines of a diverse group of women as they traveled all over the city, each taking different routes to accomplish their tasks. The exhibit quickly caught the attention of the media, and propelled the idea of gender mainstreaming in Vienna.

One of the first gender mainstreaming pilot projects that Vienna embarked upon was an apartment complex designed for and by women called Women-Work-City, or Frauen-Werk-Stadt. Before the project could be accomplished, the planners had to ask what a housing project designed to make life easier for women would look like. It was concluded that women spend much more of their time on childcare and household chores than their male partners, and that having resources closer to their home would decrease the amount of time they had to spend on those tasks. This, of course, would then increase the amount of time that women were able to dedicate to work and personal improvement.

The final design of Women-Work-City included a kindergarten, a doctor, and a pharmacist within the bounds of the complex, as well as a large courtyard area. It was also built in an area close to public transportation networks that could easily bring families to schools and workplaces.

“Women’s utopia is to overturn the 100,000 small things in everyday life. All of these together would change the face of cities entirely.”

- Kerstin Dorhofer, Professor for Urban Studies at the University of the Arts in Berlin.

A 1999 study in Vienna, Austria focused on public transportation and found dramatic differences in men’s answers versus women’s answers. Most men filled out the survey quickly, answering that they just used public transportation to travel to and from work each day - a simple two trips, with little change in daily routine.

Women, on the other hand, had much more to say. Ursula Bauer, one of the city administrators that carried out the survey, reported that “the women had a much more varied pattern of movement. They were writing things like, ‘I take my kids to the doctor some mornings, then bring them to school before I go to work. Later, I help my mother buy groceries and bring my kids home on the metro.” Women’s travel patterns changed day by day, and they were more likely to take multiple trips per day as well as more likely to take trips on foot. Their responsibilities also varied significantly from men; instead of just reporting to one job every day they had a myriad of family and work related responsibilities.

Taking all of this information into account, city planners decided to focus on improving pedestrian mobility and access to public transit. They installed additional lighting in areas where transit was missing to make it safer to walk at night or in the morning, widened over one kilometer of sidewalks, and added seating options along commonly used routes. They installed a large staircase with a ramp running through the middle to improve mobility for people traveling with strollers, walkers, or wheelchairs near a major intersection and transit hub, and installed a ramp overpass to make crossings safer in another area.

A later project in Vienna focused on gender mainstreaming in public parks, as a study done by two female sociologists showed that young girls disappear from public parks at about nine years old. The study concluded this was because young girls were less likely than young boys to seek out confrontation and stand their ground, so they were essentially being run out of those public spaces. In a pilot project planners changed a park to create more segmented areas instead of one big lawn, and added volleyball and badminton courts to supplement the numerous football cages. Almost instantly the number of confrontations in parks decreased and the presence of young girls in parks increased.

As of today, more than sixty urban planning pilot projects have been conducted in Vienna, many to great success. Vienna has fully embraced gender mainstreaming, and their city government focuses on mainstreaming not just in urban design but also in the labour market, arts and culture, and even schoolyards. The city is going far beyond most to emphasize gender equality, and its set of policy objectives is included below.

Gender Equality Objectives for Vienna:

  1. Equal career opportunities for women and men

  2. Fair distribution of unpaid and paid work among women and men

  3. Equality of women and men with regard to political representation and participation

  4. Enhancement of gender roles and standards for women and men, including elimination of restricting standards

  5. Same personal freedoms for women and men, including protection against all forms of aggression

The successes of such small changes in urban design speak volumes about the need for a diverse range of opinions when creating new public policy or considering a major change. The more that the people in charge of policy make an effort to understand how the public feels, the more likely it is for that project to succeed.

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