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Vienna, Austria: Gender Mainstreaming in Urban Planning

Posted by
on October 24, 2016 at 11:19 AM

From the early 90s, the Austrian city of Vienna has been bringing about reforms in its urban planning policies and issuing directives towards better, safer planning measures; with a strong focus on Gender Mainstreaming. Enviably, but not surprisingly, the city topped the list in Mercer’s 2015 survey for the most livable cities in the world! Here’s an insight into the factors that led to the city’s rise to the top!

© Courtesy of Internet Sources

In 1999, Statistik Austria, the Austrian national statistics office conducted a survey among the residents of the city's ninth district on transportation; and how often and why they used the public systems. The men seemed to use mostly cars; and even those who took public transport used it twice a day – to reach the workplace in the morning and in the evening to get back home. Women, on the other hand, were found to be using a variety of public facilities - sidewalks, bus routes, subway lines and streetcars more frequently and for reasons as varied as taking the child to the doctor to helping an elderly relative to buy groceries! They were also found to be splitting time between work and home – and generally shouldered a chunk of the family responsibilities.

Following the results of the survey, Vienna has been focused on gender mainstreaming—that is, accounting for gender equality in public policy. So, what exactly is Gender Mainstreaming? It is a strategy aimed at creating equal opportunities for women and men. This is to happen through the integration of a gender-sensitive perspective in all policy areas, administrative processes, programmes and measures, meaning that social inequalities between women and men should always be deliberately taken account of and that all plans and measures should be designed so as to contribute towards promoting equal opportunities. 

In practice, this means city administrators create laws, rules and regulations that benefit men and women equally. The goal is to provide equal access to city resources. Subsequently, gender mainstreaming has been adopted into a variety of other areas of city administration including education and health care policy. However, its major impact is seen on the field of urban planning. 

City planners got together to draft a plan to improve not only pedestrian mobility, but also access to public transit. Besides adding extra lighting to make walking at night safer for women, sidewalks have been widened allowing for easier pedestrian navigation, and a staircase with a ramp running through its middle has been installed near one of the city’s major intersections, making movement comfortable for people traveling with strollers and individuals using walkers or wheelchairs. 

More than sixty pilot projects have been carried out to date. As the size and scale of these projects increase, gender mainstreaming has become a force that is literally reshaping the city. Over the last two decades, urban planners have been inculcating the ideals of gender mainstreaming into city design – right at the start! Before any public project is put up for approval, data is collected to determine the usage patterns and user groups of that particular public space/facility.

One of the city’s most impressive urban planning projects is the ‘Women-Work-City’, which was built as a reaction to the same principles. It consists of a series of apartment buildings surrounded by courtyards. Circular, grassy areas dot the courtyards, allowing parents and children to spend time outside without having to go far from home. The complex has an on-site kindergarten, pharmacy and doctor’s office. It also stands in close proximity to public transit to make running errands and getting to school and work easier.

There are many lessons to be learnt here – primarily that if urban planners are involved and strict measures are taken, a whole city can be reconfigured – without losing its essence! 

Would that happen, say, in a city like Vadodara??? With the new airport set to change the profile of the city, urban planning should come more into focus now! And guess what – it has! With Ar. Rahul Dalvi at the helm of IIID Baroda, several dialogues are conducted with the Vadodara Municipal Corporation; and many urban design interventions are now getting implemented! 

More on this is the next feature - a Q&A with Ar. Rahul Dalvi! 

And while on Gender Mainstreaming let us look at this latest initiative in the realm of public spaces/urban design in Thane, near Mumbai - with 'The Light Box - Restrooms for Women' - designed by Ar. Rohan Chavan for Agasti, an agency advocating better public sanitation and hygiene in cities!

Watch out for this series on Urban Design Interventions on TFOD - The Future Of Design!

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