Fu­ture of the City

Vancouver Magazine - - News - Petti Fong by Sébastien Thibault il­lus­tra­tion by

How to de­sign a city with women in mind.

In her six years as a COPE coun­cil­lor, Ellen Woodsworth helped es­tab­lish some of Van­cou­ver’s more left-lean­ing poli­cies, in­clud­ing a Women’s Task Force, which com­mis­sioned a strat­egy for gen­der equal­ity. In 2011, Woodsworth founded Women Trans­form­ing Cities to help make Van­cou­ver the most woman-friendly city in the world. Are we there yet?

Q:Isn’t it a bit weird in 2016 to sug­gest that women are still mostly ex­cluded from the plan­ning process in our cities? From 1974 to2006, we had awoman, Ann McAfee, who was the co-di­rec­tor of plan­ning, and the city’s pre­vi­ous city man­ager was Penny Ballem.Women, it­would seem, are al­ready at the table and mak­ing the big de­ci­sions.

A:Yes, but don’t for­get the last three ma­jor hires at the city were all white males. If you don’t have women at the table when you de­velop these strate­gies, what hap­pens are unar­tic­u­lated as­sump­tions. Gre­gor [Robert­son] wants to be the green­est city mayor, but to have an ef­fec­tive green strat­egy you have to put agen­der lens on it or it won’t see the un­paid and vol­un­teer work that women do. Then the strate­gies won’t be suc­cess­ful. Q: What hap­pens to cities if they don’t consider women? A: A very clear ex­am­ple is in Ja­pan. The green move­ment there was stopped and un­able to move for­ward. Why? Women who were al­ready do­ing most of the un­paid work in the home—they re­fused to add more work for them­selves and re­cy­cle. That was the end of the environmental move­ment. If we don’t in­volve women, you lose the voices that can make things hap­pen, cre­ate change. Q: What’s one de­sign change that could make Van­cou­ver more ideal for women? A: Think of a place like Lit­tle Moun­tain, the hous­ing com­plex on Main Street that the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment de­mol­ished and sold to a pri­vate de­vel­oper. It was de­signed so when peo­ple were cook­ing they could see their kids play in the court­yard and keep an eye on their own and ev­ery­one else’s chil­dren.

How about in all the build­ings we build you have to build in child-care cen­tres, for not just the peo­ple who live in the com­plex, but also for peo­ple in the neigh­bour­hood? Q: Is it the city’s job to have af­ford­able child care? A: There’s a global move­ment called “the right to the city,” and that in­cludes safety and af­ford­able hous­ing, it in­cludes wages and many things we haven’t tra­di­tion­ally thought of as city is­sues. Here’s the re­al­ity: 67 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion lives in the 25 big­gest cities in Canada, and cities aren’t given the man­date or the fund­ing to deal with these is­sues. Q: If women could­trans­form cities, what would that look like? A:Van­cou­ver should be the most women-friendly city in the world. It can do that by tack­ling the is­sues that hurt women: safety, af­ford­able hous­ing, af­ford­able child-care, de­cent wages. Safety [on tran­sit] is a ma­jor thing. Q: How couldVan­cou­ver’s tran­sit sys­tem beim­proved? A: To be safer, pub­lic tran­sit needs to run more­fre­quently—buses should run all night long—and it needs to go to places where­women work, in­clud­ing bars and restau­rants. In Toronto, women can re­port if they’re feel­ing un­safe us­ing an app; that can hap­pen here. Mak­ing bus stops lit at night is one sim­ple thing that can be done eas­ily. Q: What­would you change­about the city right now if you could? A: The city’s crest is two white men. Look it up. Most peo­ple don’t know and when they see it, they’ll re­al­ize that keep­ing it that way keeps women and our di­verse pop­u­la­tion in­vis­i­ble. I tried to change it when I was on coun­cil and it cre­ated such a back­lash, I had to back off. But if you see it, you’ll know that the city’s crest doesn’t rep­re­sent who we are.

Gen­der Gap Van­cou­ver’s real coat of arms fea­tures two white men (see it on page 28).

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