Female Futures

The influential consumer and technology trends that are driving a female future that rewrites narratives around gender, career and family

Is the future of cities female?

25.04.2018 Female Futures : Architecture : Smart Cities
Silvertown Plug-in by Grace Quah speculates what feminist architecture could look like Silvertown Plug-in by Grace Quah speculates what feminist architecture could look like

If you look out of your window in nearly any city anywhere on this earth right now, you’re looking at a male city.

Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman

The conversation around cities, as we have it today, is limiting. Economists view it as a self-propelled engine for growth, mayors vie for political approval and recognition of their city’s endeavours, and the average citizen moves through and within the many systems created around them with very little input towards intuitivity.

But what if we flipped the script? What if, rather than looking at cities as products and its citizens as consumers, we instead thought of our cities as habitats first and foremost – as places for people to not only survive, but thrive.

A city as a system of systems cannot be divided up like so many corporate departments. Each piece relates to what is more often than not a critical social outcome – at times, veering even on life or death. When thought of this way, it is an ethical imperative to create a city that works for everyone beyond a baseline level of profit, but as habitation for us and our fellow human beings. The key to achieving this, as I see it, is simple: we need women-led cities.

In the course of our nearly 10,000 years of urban habitation, men have dominated the design of our urban environments. That means our temples, transport systems, city halls and housing have been predominantly imagined and made real by only one half of our species. And the inequity of this situation is astounding: If you look out of your window in nearly any city anywhere on this earth right now, you’re looking at a male city. Although female influences can be felt, it is so limited in scope that we have never truly had a women-led city in all that time.

So what does a women-led city mean? Over the past year, I’ve had dozens of conversations with women working in a variety of urban fields - from urban planning and design to anthropology and policy. In all of these conversations, a few key themes stand out time and again: compassion, co-creation and collaboration.

Without the input of a dramatically different set of experiences into the urban conversation we cannot hope to tackle these challenges in a realistic – or equitable – way.

When women talk about the city it’s no longer a construct based around market forces that swing out of our control or a platform for political growth. It’s a living, breathing eco-system full of a myriad of individuals, each with their own capabilities and privileges – all of whom experience the city in a dramatically different way than those who control it for the rest of us.

Women believe in co-creation of this environment above all. The community is the expert, and if we’re to ensure that our cities are meeting the needs of its citizens it is imperative to have these people at the table. And beyond this, we believe in collaborating across disciplines to find the best solution to the problem (two heads are better than one) rather than competing as has been the norm in male-dominated urbanism fields until now. Furthermore, women consider the idea of compassion to be more than just a soft skill – but instead a core component in the way cities should be grounded. That means programmes and processes that are equitable and empathetic to the ways people are treated, how they feel and what they need to succeed, rather than some outdated concept of merit that has no basis of equity.

That is not to say that women will always take others’ needs into consideration, or that a female body is a feminist mind. Nor does it mean that men cannot or should not be involved, or even leading the creation of our cities. But without the input of a dramatically different set of experiences into the urban conversation we cannot hope to tackle these challenges in a realistic – or equitable – way.

Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman is an urban anthropologist working to create better cities for people through the lens of anthropology. She is the co-founder of the Women-Led Cities initiative that aims to highlight women's role and voices within urban planning and design.

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