How could feminist urbanism look like?
On the International Women’s day 2020 in Barcelona, I found myself in a book presentation at my exchange university ETSAV. One of the writers of the book, Blanca Valdivia Gutiérrez was describing with passion the content of years of work of Col·lectiu Punt 6, a feminist collective that she herself is part of. Their team consists of five women: sociologists, architects and urbanists that work in the Spanish urban context. They come from diverse backgrounds but they all live and work in Barcelona. Their mutual work resulted in a collectively written book: Urbanismo feminista – Feminist Urbanism.
The presentation was followed by a reflective discussion where many young architecture students expressed their frustration in the difficulty of tackling socio-political issues with spatial solutions. Some claimed that their education should be more multidisciplinary. The guest speaker pointed out that it maybe is the work environments that should be more diverse. After the session I approached the organisers and bought myself a paperback copy.
The feminist urbanism book tries to tackle the issue of inequalities in the urban environments. The book explains how the cities that were born and evolved in patriarchal societies, contribute to the reproduction of its inequitable patriarchal values.
The industrial revolution introduced a division of spaces to public and private. Female part of the society was tied to the private, domestic and reproductive spaces, while the male one to the public and productive spaces. While in the Catalan context, women have an active role in the productive tasks of today, women in Cataluña spent double the weekly hours on task related to house and family compared to men still in year 2011 (Encuesta de Empleo del Tiempo, 2011).
Feminist urbanism is not only urbanism with a gender perspective. It also considers other variables that can contribute to privilege or disadvantages of individuals or groups of people. However, gender is considered by the authors a good analytical tool to recognize the differences in processing certain gender related roles and stereotypes in the society. Apart from gender differences, factors like age, sexual identity, origin, social class, physical or mental disability etc. can affect ones needs and perception of urban space. In result spaces are lived in countless different ways by people with different necessities and experiences.
Feminist urbanism seeks to combine the diversity of experiences and introduce them to urban projects through participatory processes. The writers’ critique is centred in the capitalistic prioritisation of economic factors in the urban decision-making. For example, favouring private vehicles over other forms of mobility results in homogenous and disperse city-structures. Instead, the authors propose to focus on the people’s everyday life and its complexities. They argue that the quality of life would increase by placing the needs of the everyday life in the center of the decision-making. That is why they are especially interested in the spaces that facilitate domestic, communal and/or public uses. The collective works with people on the streets, public spaces, neighbourhoods, metropolitan areas etc. Their aim is to shift the urban decision-making of neighbourhoods from institutions to participatory processes. Acknowledging that participation can be hard and time-consuming work, the authors want to introduce compensation to the participants for their input.
The writers highlight that there is no concrete recipe for applying feminist approach to urban planning as they must always be adapted to the unique territorial and human contexts. However, in the book Col·lectiu Punt 6 presents five urban qualities that can work as guidelines for creating urban spaces.
- Proximity – The essential spaces of daily life: basic services, stores and bus stops should be located at 5-10-minute walk from one’s home.
- Diversity – Urban spaces should be diverse to fulfil the needs of their diverse users. There should exist networks of spaces of different qualities. There should also be elements that facilitate use of spaces like benches, tables, play areas, bicycle stands etc.
- Autonomy – Urban spaces should be designed in a way that among others, people with different kinds of disabilities could use the spaces autonomously. Urban spaces should also be accessible free of charge.
- Vitality – Urban spaces should enable various simultaneous activities to facilitate socialisation and mutual support among the users.
- Representativeness – This quality is related to participation in urban decision-making and honouring the history and memory of contributions to the society made by oppressed groups.
This is a warm invitation to read the Urbanismo Feminista book by Col·lectiu Punt 6. The PDF of the book can be downloaded from: https://www.viruseditorial.net/ca/libreria/libros/521/urbanismo-feminista . The book is in Spanish but can be translated with the help of on-line translating tools. The paperback can be bought from various web stores.