Gender and Urban Life

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Global Urban Development Volume 2 Issue 1 March 2006
BUILDING GENDER EQUALITY IN URBAN LIFE

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GENDER EQUALITY AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT: BUILDING BETTER COMMUNITIES FOR ALL Monika Jaeckel and Marieke van Geldermalsen

Introduction
When looking at cities from a gender perspective, one of the main differences affecting the use of urban space is in terms of female and male care-giving roles and responsibilities. Due to the gender-specific division of labor, women do most of the direct care-giving work within families and communities. As such, women are central to urban planning and development, both as key users of urban space in their role as home managers, and as key producers of residential environments in their role as community leaders and initiators of neighborhood networks. The current development of urban infrastructure and the built environment needs to be redesigned to promote greater gender equality in the use and benefits of urban space. Many of the past and present trends in urban planning and development reflect the male perspective regarding the role of women as primary caregivers. Viewing families, communities, towns, cities, and regions from a gender perspective requires a radical shift both in thinking and in actions. This article summarizes basic principles that can inform urban planning, policies, and programs in the process of redesigning and redeveloping urban areas to be more gender-sensitive, inclusive, and responsive to everyone’s needs.

Reclaiming Public Space for Daily Life
Decades of a fragmented approach in urban planning has led to segregated urban environments where residences, workplaces, shopping districts, and leisure environments constitute separate spheres linked by extensive motorways and public transportation systems. In this approach traffic has become dominant, relegating all other functions to compressed and de-linked pockets of urban life amidst a vast landscape of infrastructure and technology. Caregivers needing to deal simultaneously deal with many varied aspects of everyday life find even the technocratic efficiency of mono-cultural urban environments to be counterproductive. They need multifunctional urban spaces to match the balancing of their multi-tasking daily realities. Complete neighborhoods of mixed uses with short travel distances and close proximity to work, childcare, and schools, plus extensive availability of stores and services, along with safe pedestrian environments and frequent and easily accessible public transportation systems — these constitute some of the main elements of a urban life that fits the needs of women as caregivers.

Urban Life is for Everyone
The structure of urban space often poses more difficult challenges for residents with lower mobility, such as children, older people, and people with disabilities. People in these and similar categories have become marginalized and relegated to segregated spaces that specifically target their special needs. Often they are not welcome in the mainstream of urban life. Mobility and a “footloose” society have created residential environments lacking in community atmosphere because the inhabitants engage in social activities outside of their own neighborhood. The Internet and other new forms of information and telecommunications technology are reinforcing these trends.

Global Urban Development

Global Urban Development Volume 2 Issue 1 March 2006

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Since automobile traffic now makes it too dangerous for children to play on their local streets, the scope in which they can autonomously explore their home environments is becoming increasingly limited. Youth are becoming increasingly dependent on parents and other adults to drive and escort them to those places that specifically cater to their needs, including parks and playgrounds. As residential neighborhoods and their inhabitants grow older and less mobile, homogeneity becomes a problem. In view of the demographic challenges of an aging...
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