Cities by Women?

Marianne Lefever recently asked a good question on LinkedIn:
“Imagine a city designed by women, what would be different?”

I’m not typically a big fan of fantasy city building, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the lack of women’s voices in the “thought leadership” part of urban planning and economic development, so this was a little more intriguing. I started with some things that seemed a little obvious (at least to me), but then tried to push it a little farther. What might be the deeper impacts, beyond lighting and windows?

LinkedIn, of course, cuts you off, so I’ve expanded my response a bit here. What would you have added?

Good question Marianne! I’d argue that a few factors would be particularly different, at least given the issues that women often find themselves having to worry about today: 

1) This is kind of obvious, but “eyes on the street” would be a much more core concept.  Blank walls, dark corners, blind alleys would probably be so rare as to appear horrific.  

2) Spaces better for women would probably mean spaces better designed for disabled people, older people, etc.  You’re much more aware of the value of a ramp at a crosswalk when you’re pushing a stroller or dragging a toddler or guiding a grandparent to a haircut.  That shouldn’t still be a “women” issue, but it too many cases, it is.  And the degree to which COVID has driven women out of the work force would seem to indicate that caring for others will continue to fall disproportionately on women at least into the nerar future.

Beyond those, here’s a couple that I would imagine based less on fear and limitations, and more on what seem to be behavior traits more common to women (man, that’s thin ice….)

3) Given what we know of how women, particularly disadvantaged women, tend to engage in entrepreneurship, we would probably design commercial spaces differently – perhaps smaller, more closely connected commercial spaces that give more opportunities for collaboration, like backstage spaces for easy access between storefronts, or collaborative spaces designed directly into retail spaces.

4) We would perhaps have a better repetoire of spaces designed for collaboration of all types, since there’s some evidence that women’s leadership styles tend to more flat hierarchy and more collaborative decision-making. Rather than trying to invent those now, perhaps mixes of small breakout rooms and informal collaboration spaces would have become more common 50 or 100 years ago. Perhaps our businesses and organizations would have developed differently as well.

5) In general, I suspect we would have had more mixing of uses within one space, let alone one building, than we have today (when even “mixed use” buildings are more like a collection of separate uses than an actual mix). The idea of placing sharp divides between home and work life would have probably been less assumed (at least in areas where the work doesn’t risk killing or maiming kids). Perhaps studio-type spaces, as opposed to the converted bedroom used as an office, would have been a more standard part of 20th /21st century home design.

What would you add?

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