BBC News

Magazine

Page last updated at 11:37 GMT, Thursday, 28 August 2008 12:37 UK

Are towns designed for the benefit of men?

By Sarah Bell
BBC News

Woman on bus
More women use public transport than men
The UK's towns and cities are designed primarily for men, not women, says a study. So what's the difference?

If a town was designed solely for women, how would it look?

If you think it would have more nail bars, shoe shops and coffee shops selling skinny lattes, then think again.

A study by Cambridge University says planning projects and urban regeneration schemes tend to cater to men better than women, despite the two living their lives differently.

Travel is one example. Studies show women make more complex journeys than men, dropping children off at school, going to work, getting the shopping before going home.

Urban designers like to be fluid and creative, but the reality is women want to get from one point to another as quickly as possible
Dr Clara Greed

In contrast, men tend to just travel straight to work and back again.

Women are also more dependent on public transport, making 75% of bus journeys and only 30% have access to a car in the daytime.

Echoing complaints made in the past, the report by the university's centre for housing research says poor public transport and a lack of facilities such as schools and creches near workplaces restrict women's ability to choose where they work.

"There should be mixed developments where people are living, working, where there are schools, and shops close together," says Dr Gemma Burgess, who conducted the study.

"Women tend to worry about their safety at night more and want better lighting in public spaces. Others find pavements difficult for buggies," she said. "They are problems which affect us every day."

Lack of toilets

Dr Clara Greed, professor of inclusive urban planning at the University of the West of England, agreed that better street design would help to make women feel safer.

"Footpaths shouldn't be backed onto by high walls and fences. They shouldn't be designed so they create blind corners," she says.

"Urban designers like to be fluid and creative, but the reality is women want to get from one point to another as quickly as possible."

Playing fields and open spaces were another area determined by male priorities, she says.

Woman in park
Women want parks with duck ponds, not football pitches, says Dr Greed

"There is an emphasis on great swathes of grass for playing fields on which men play games. Women want more parks near to their homes, with things like duck ponds and plants."

But Dr Greed's key battleground is on public toilets. She says many women have said their closure is a big problem.

"It's a fundamental thing. If people are out, and want to go, they're stuck. It's the missing link," she says.

New housing developments are also presenting problems for young families. The current demand for high density developments means 40% of new properties being built are flats, with no lifts, small gardens and shared entrances.

"It's like the problem we had 30 years ago with council tower blocks with no lifts. They never seem to learn. Now they are building privately, with the same problems."

Women 'ignored'

Public authorities have been required to promote equality when making decisions since the Gender Equality Duty was introduced in 2007.

Dr Burgess did uncover examples of good practice. New ways of assessing gender equality in planning schemes have been introduced by the London Borough of Lewisham.

It means the council has changed its approach when positioning new business developments, now ensuring women have more opportunities close to home.

And a group of women were recruited by designers in a south Yorkshire local authority to walk around an area with designers. Their comments were included in a planning brief.

But the research by Dr Burgess showed the vast majority of planners were still ignoring, or unaware of how to implement the legislation.

Most people will strive for idealism, where work is close to childcare, but it's not necessarily a question of the design not fitting
Catherine Phillips
Mumsnet

"Gender is still a relatively 'new' consideration for planners and local authorities," she says. "There is still a long way to go before the real potential for change will be realised."

But Catherine Phillips, editor of online forum mumsnet, says the problems faced by women may not be down to poor town planning.

"Most people will strive for idealism, where work is close to childcare, but it's not necessarily a question of the design not fitting."

For example, nurseries opening at 8am means there's only a short space of time to fight rush-hour traffic and get to work, while parked cars obstructing buggies could be the fault of nurseries not providing enough parking places.

Other complaints include uneven pavements and poor lighting, says Ms Phillips, although public toilet provision was not such a big issue because mothers (and fathers) tended to plan rest stops in advance.


Below is a selection of your comments.

I don't have children so I can't comment on the topic of planning around mums with prams, for child care, etc. But, the one thing I hate about some streets/roads is cobbles! They may look nice but they are hell to walk on in heels!
Suze, North East, UK

I have to disagree... look at all the clothes shops geared to women... not men... unless there's a lot of cross dressers amongst us!
Neil, Harlow

This article claims that towns are designed for men rather than women, yet nearly all the issues it highlights are connected to children, so the issue is actually with how well designed towns are for parents. Those issues highlighted that aren't connected to children, affect men just as much as women. Men worry about their safety at night and they worry about their partner's safety too. Also, men are more than able to enjoy duck ponds and plants. So the idea that towns are designed with men in mind is false. Towns are designed for people without kids.
TS, Bromley, England

"Women want parks with duck ponds, not football pitches" - until their sons turn six years old, at least.
Ross Parker, London, England

What a huge pile of nonsense, Dr Clara Greed obviously has some sort of chip on her shoulder. A lot of towns etc. weren't planned in such detail, they evolved. Tall buildings were often built after the footpaths, and no one specifically plans dark alleys. And only men play sports? What stops a woman playing football on the fields, or a man enjoying the ducks? I know plenty of women who use the sports fields for a variety of games. The only valid point she has is about the lack of public toilets, but that affects both genders equally (unless it's ok because men are 'expected') to urinate in public. This isn't feminism, it's finding problems where none exist.
Jamie Cole, Manchester, England

"For example, nurseries opening at 8am means there's only a short space of time to fight rush-hour traffic and get to work, while parked cars obstructing buggies could be the fault of nurseries not providing enough parking places." The irony of this statement is that it is the school runs that cause most of the rush-hour traffic. Many parents ferry their kids to school and park whether they feel like it when dropping them off which causes huge delays. During the summer holidays, most drivers will notice the considerable reduction in their rush-hour drive. Also, if so many women are using public transport (75% compared to the 30% driving private cars according to this article), why would nurseries need to provide more parking spaces?CS, Manchester, England

This is town planning with a bias for PARENTS. Not all women or couples have children, not all want them. We ALL, however, need public loos!
Lisa, London

I think this story is out off touch with reality. I live in Bristol and what is described here is not what happens here. Men fear for their safety as much as women, city centre is more geared for women (most are women's shops)the buses are buggy friendly, almost as many men do the school run, the parks aren't just football pitches (cant stand the game myself) the flats all have lifts in them, and they choose whether to live near the schools you cant have one on every corner now can you? We have the same issue with public loo's and hey didn't they want to be treated like men?

So this is so lame even to do the study and before the people on HYS claim single bloke chatter think again!!
Craig smith, Bristol/England

This is nonsense, there have been more shops for women than men for years and there always will be.
Darren, UK

You have got to be joking -"although public toilet provision was not such a big issue because mothers (and fathers) tended to plan rest stops in advance." It is only men who have time for rest stops!
Vickii, Paignton

Presenting poor urban planning as a 'gender' issue only serves to reinforce stereotypes and broaden the perceived divide between men and women. Of course it's a fact that some aspects of planning affect women differently than they affect men, but, basically, bad planning is bad planning. Men and women have equal rights to large grassy playing fields and duck ponds; men and women have equal rights to get from A to B as efficiently as possible; men and women have equal rights not to be placed in risky situations where muggings are more likely due to the design of the area. We may not - and probably will not - always live in a society where only 30% of women have access to a car during the daytime, or where women rather than men drop the kids off: there is absolutely no value in focusing on gender issues in urban planning. The issue rather is how to ensure that people from both sexes and all walks of life get an equal input into how urban areas are planned.
Catherine, Leicester


RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2020 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific