Dory Reeves: Most liveable cities are those where all feel safe

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

A campaign by the YWCA in Wellington highlighted the gender pay gap by selling coffee to men for $4.40 and to women for $4. But regarding gender gaps, it's not just coffee that should concern us.

As we observe International Women's Day today we should take the opportunity to reflect on our urban environments and ask if we are creating towns and cities which are as liveable for women as men, girls as boys?

In order to provide spaces that meet everyone's needs it is necessary to look at cities from a gender-sensitive perspective. We must engage in gender-sensitive planning, which means looking at the urban environment through a series of lenses with the primary focus on gender. To put this in plain language - what we develop must take into account the lives and needs of women and girls.

Incorporating equality into planning, decision-making and the design processes of how a city operates is essential if it is to be recognised as liveable.

Living proof of successfully following such an initiative can be found in Vienna, Austria. This city of 1.7 million people tops the Mercer Liveable Cities table; a table which Auckland aspires to lead. During the last three decades Vienna has embraced what is termed a gender mainstreaming approach. The city has taken account of gender equality concerns including incorporated gender experts in each of the city's three main units; urban planning, building construction and public works.

Men and women should enjoy the same opportunities in Auckland. A basic issue like whether or not a person feels safe in their neighbourhood impacts on lives. The 2010 Quality of Life Survey measured the perceptions of residents living in New Zealand's eight largest cities. The results for Auckland found 19 per cent of males felt unsafe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark. This figure leapt to 41 per cent for females. If Auckland is to aspire to being one of the worlds' most livable cities, its female population must perceive themselves - at the very least - as being safe. Gender-sensitive planning can improve women's feelings of safety by designing public spaces with clear layouts, good sight lines and improved lighting, thereby encouraging the presence of women. More people out and about has the flow-on effect of making neighbourhoods safer.

And even though there have been changes in the division of labour in society, women are still largely responsible for the day-to-day care of children. We should be designing housing with easy access to schools and creches, as well as pedestrian-friendly outdoor spaces, incorporating children's play areas with seating and good visibility. These are just a few examples of how gender-sensitive planning can benefit women.

Vienna has now successfully broken from the tradition of what was termed "European urbanism", where men generally created and constructed cities as planners, architects, building owners and contractors and the structure of cities primarily reflected their wants and needs. We must do the same.

If Auckland's grand plan is to take over the title of the worlds' most liveable city by 2040 it should learn the lessons from Vienna. The Auckland Plan is forward thinking, positive and seeks to work to improve the lives of everyone within its boundaries. However it could and should go further by specifically addressing the needs of women and adopting a gender-sensitive plan.

Working towards a gender-sensitive city is achieved by having women involved at the hub of decision making, and highlights the importance of having women professionals in urban development. The setting up of a women's advisory group as part of the Community Development Strategy and to support the Unitary Development Plan would be a major step forward. International Women's Day is a day to reflect on how Auckland can use the skills, knowledge and experience of its women to achieve its goal of being the world's most liveable city.

Dr Dory Reeves is a Professor of Planning at the University of Auckland who specialises in social sustainability.

- NZ Herald

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