An old idea is new again
The Useful Knowledge Society of Hamilton starts a conversation about urban issues
I’m a city gal. There’s something about the city that touches me in a way the country doesn’t. Which isn’t to say I don’t love some downtime communing with nature, but I miss the life, the speed, the energy, the busyness of city life. I’m reminded of the 1960s TV series Green Acres and the theme song where Eva Gabor responds to Eddie Albert’s invitation to live in the country, singing:
No — New York is where I’d rather stay I get allergic smelling hay I just adore a penthouse view Darling I love you but give me Park Avenue
Now, Hamilton isn’t New York, but even as a child going downtown shopping with my mother, city life held me captive. Part of it was the sense of undeniably adult space, part of it was the danger that underscores urban living. The grime, the grit, the concrete and asphalt surfaces; it was all so different from where I lived, in the suburbs with green grass all around, a house with a lawn and a tree and the escarpment in the background.
Women have long had a complex relationship with cities. The “city” throughout history has carried both the promise of individual freedom as well as the curse of licentious contamination; the city being a hotbed of sexual temptation in an environment of loosened family oversight and greater personal and economic independence. The city meant liberation from rural drudgery and social isolation, even if at the same time it meant hardship and struggle in an evolving industrial landscape where women held little to no social or economic power. In literature, people, women in particular, run away to the city for adventure, not to the country.
So when I received notice through social media of the Women and the City event hosted by the Useful Knowledge Society of Hamilton, I marked it in my calendar as a mustgo. You can mark it, too: it’s on Tuesday, June 6, 6:30 at the AGH Annex on James Street North.
The Useful Knowledge Society of Hamilton is a group of like-minded citizens, real friends who started a Facebook group modelled after the grassroots knowledge collectives from the 1600s formed as organic “think-tanks” to explore issues of the day. This modern-day version is designed to pull together the collective knowledge of group members to address challenges that face our communities. By creating conversations, communities can come together to begin the process of finding solutions to such issues as intensification, development, public transit. Their event held last October was billed as the first ever State of Our Neighbourhoods Event with Mayor Fred Eisenberger. The focus is on talking, and listening, learning from each other. In that way, understandings can be forged and innovations created through conscientious collaborations that are more likely to find successful solutions.
What if women designed cities? It’s not such a far-fetched question; feminist geographers have been asking it for decades. Feminist writers in the late 19th century imagined utopian cities and communities designed for and by women. In real life, city planners were men who answered the needs of other men, usually businessmen and industrialists; cities function as the men who designed them needed them to function.
What about women? How is our relationship with the city different from men? Safety comes to top of mind. Although long a site fraught with danger, how can we see the city as a site of female freedom and empowerment?
How do women move around the city? How do women access public transit? Research shows that the journeys women take are usually multi-task journeys, that is, on any given work day she might stop at the daycare before work and the supermarket on the way home. How easy is that? What about bus stop access? Are there benches, is there a shelter, lighting? Can the bus driver see us?
Urban walkability is a huge challenge as mothers walk their kids to school, to stores, to parks and play dates in their neighbourhoods. How challenging is it for women and their children to navigate their way through our neighbourhoods? Unless we explore these issues with intent to understand them, we don’t give them much thought, other than to say, why is this intersection so dangerous, or we could use a street light here.
What about women and public space? Are there access issues for women different from men? Questions, questions, questions.
Come out to the AGH Design Annex on June 6, at 6:30 p.m. for a FREE event exploring the multifaceted relationship that women have with cities and, more particularly, with this city. And don’t forget, FREE. Can’t beat that price.