Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Is Your City Male or Female?


One of my favorite theorists of modern life is Jane Jacobs, author of "The Death and Life of Great American Cities". Jacobs is famous for her critique of urban renewal projects that essentially eviscerated inner city areas in the United States post WWII. Her view is that mixed use neighborhoods, those that combine rather than separate residential, commercial, and industrial uses, are more vibrant, safe, and amenable to democratic social life than suburban or exurban neighborhoods.

A new study by Cambridge University adds another interesting dimension to this critique. The study found that urban renewal projects tend to cater to the urban needs and interests of men more so than to women.

For instance, public transportation (which is used by more women than men) is usually arranged alone straight routes from point to point. Women usually are making various trips for different purposes when they go out; men usually go from work to home. Public transport tend to favor masculine habits.

Another: urban renewal tends to focus on creating as many open green spaces as possible, usually with big playing fields. Again, the study found this caters more to men who want to play sports than it does to women, who want smaller areas, closer to home, with mixed use potential.

Finally, the lack of public toilets is something that separates men and women's needs, according to the study. The folks at Cambridge suggest that urban projects should follow a more mixed use model if they want to include the needs and interests of women.

When I think of the civic architecture of Corvallis, I have to conclude, using the variables of this study, that it is a city that caters to masculine needs. In what other ways might our public spaces--neighborhoods, workplaces, etc.--be gendered?

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