The Gendered City X Imagining Public Space With Her / For Her

On Friday, I had the pleasure of attending the Museo Spazio Pubblico exhibition in Bologna by City Space Architecture, and it was my first time visiting this incredible city. Like many other Italian cities, it captured my heart.

Thanks to Luisa Bravo and the team, the exhibition “Imagining Public Space With Her / For Her” showcased the remarkable work of women who are driving positive change in their communities and neighborhoods by highlighting their contributions to the fields of feminist urbanism and gender mainstreaming. Their collective efforts aim to create a more equitable environment that fosters inclusivity and supports a world where everyone can thrive. I am humbled to be among them with “The Gendered City” project.

During my visit, I had the opportunity to meet with Carolina Anderson and we discussed the exhibition in further detail. I highly recommend visiting the exhibition if you have the chance, and while you’re at it, take some time to explore the beautiful city of Bologna.

The exhibition highlighted the contributions of women who are actively working towards creating a more just and equal world. These women are using their voices and their platforms to challenge patriarchal norms and promote inclusivity in various aspects of society. By showcasing these women’s voices, the exhibition aimed to inspire and empower others to join the movement toward greater gender equality and inclusivity. It celebrated the progress that has been made toward creating a more equitable world while recognizing that there is still much work to be done. I will be mentioning some of the featured work here:

Anna Barker is an Associate Professor, at the Center for Criminal Justice Studies. Interested in making public space feel safe, convivial, and inclusive. Her project “safer parks project”  researched women and girls’ safety in urban parks and public spaces.
She says  “Whilst parks and public spaces are open to all there is still a long way to go to make sure they are used and experienced as safe places by women and girls. “ Anna Barker

Dr. Sara Candiracci, Associate Director at Arup – Cities, Planning and Design | Europe Lead Social Value & Inclusive Cities, co-produced a report titled “Designing cities that work for women” in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the University of Liverpool. The report identifies four key areas of focus for improving women’s lives in cities and presents a new gender-responsive approach to planning and design. It includes case studies and recommendations for city planners, developers, community groups, and city authorities worldwide.

The report draws on a literature review, case studies, interviews, surveys, and workshops conducted across 20 countries and 6 continents to provide insights into women’s experiences and suggest actions and recommendations for change. The goal is to reverse the historic gender bias that is built into our urban spaces and create cities that are inclusive and welcoming to all women.

I was really intrigued by The project “Sex & the City” which is aimed at highlighting the theme of gender in Italian academic research and public policy, which has often been overlooked. The historical exclusion of women from public life has led to gender issues becoming a central topic in public debates today. It is necessary to move away from this sexist approach and create an inclusive vision of the city and the world.

Florencia Andreola, Ph.D. in History of Architecture, and Azzurra Muzzonigro, Ph.D. in Urban Studies, co-curate the research project “Sex & the City,” which examines cities from a gendered perspective. They are also co-authors of the “Milan Gender Atlas,” which provides a framework for integrating gender dimensions into reflections on the city.

“Sex & the City” is a social promotion association that aims to create a framework for public administration to formulate policies that promote the well-being of all citizens, regardless of gender. Their inspiration comes from Jane Darke’s quote: “Our cities are patriarchy written in stone, brick, glass, and concrete.”

The “Milan Gender Atlas” is not intended to be a definitive representation of gendered spaces and individuals. Rather, it is seen as an open and evolving entity that is receptive to the diversity of perspectives embodied in space. Its primary objective is to present a gender-related geography and serve as a forum for dialogue and the collective creation of an unrealized vision. The research seeks to reveal the power dynamics underlying spatial design from a female perspective and encourage the asking of appropriate questions, rather than offering solutions.

The exhibition featured Anabella Roitman, an Argentine urbanist who works as a research professor at the University of Buenos Aires. Roitman has studied urban planning and management in both Spain and Argentina and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Urbanism at FADU UBA. She is also the director of a research project called “Urbanismo feminista” which focuses on feminist urbanism in urban planning. Roitman’s research critically examines the integration of feminist urbanism theory and ideas into various national and international urban public policies. She analyzes the ways in which this integration is evident in the stages of urban planning, management, and/or project development by studying the urban planning tools utilized, the participation models employed in management, and the resources selected for projects.

And of course, our Rozina Spinnoy is featured with her amazing work creating the Empowering Women, Public Space & Climate Change project that aims to empower women by bringing together a diverse and intersectional community from around the world, including the Global South and Global North, to discuss critical issues related to public space, climate change, and women’s empowerment.

Their objective is to empower women in the realm of public space and climate change, recognizing their importance in creating a sustainable and just future. To accomplish this, they aim to transform public spaces into regenerative and restorative environments that prioritize inclusivity and sustainability. By designing public spaces that cater to the diverse needs of women, they strive to build more resilient communities that are better equipped to address climate change. However, this transformation must prioritize the voices and needs of marginalized communities and work towards equity and justice for all in order to create truly sustainable, inclusive, and equitable public spaces for everyone.

Empowering Women, Public Space, and Climate Change endeavors to raise awareness, conduct research, and initiate projects on female-led initiatives by sharing resources. They bring together experts and professionals from various fields who focus on empowering women worldwide by sharing, exchanging, and collaborating on ideas with many partners such as the UN habitat, The New European Bauhaus, PlacemakingX, Placemaking Europe, BIDS belgium, Her City, Women in Urbanism, Global Utmaning, GamingX and many more

In addition, they organize “Empowering Women, Public Space & Climate Change – Talks” sessions, which fortunately I took part in on this last women’s day,that engage in inspiring debates and discussions that highlight women in the fields of public space, climate change, and female leadership. These sessions take an inclusive approach to ensure that all voices are heard. More information on these sessions can be found on their website.

It included the work of Teresa Tourvas who is an architect and researcher who is located in Nicosia, Cyprus. She works as a practicing architect and also serves as an adjunct lecturer. Her research is focused on exploring the concepts of collaboration and urban dynamics in design processes. Since 2015, she has been an active member of Urban Gorillas, which is an NGO based in Cyprus that is dedicated to transforming public spaces through innovative physical and social engagement processes. Currently, she is participating in multiple research programs, including PS4Her, which is a project that involves teenage girls in designing and utilizing public space.In 2021, Teresa was a co-curator for the exhibition “Frau Architect” in Cyprus, which was organized by the Goethe Institute in Nicosia. This was the first exhibition in Cyprus that was solely dedicated to women architects. The showcased projects explored the role of women-led practices in expanding architecture beyond physical structures, and into social, environmental, and political interventions.

The quote “You have to change the city to transform everything” suggests that transforming the city is a crucial step towards achieving broader societal change. The statement “involving girls in urban development will make the city better for everyone” highlights the importance of inclusivity and diverse perspectives in urban planning and development, emphasizing that the benefits of such involvement extend beyond just one group of people.

Tove Levonen is the program director for Sustainable Cities at the independent think tank Global Utmaning. She has been involved with the Her City initiative from the beginning and is in charge of the program at Global Utmaning. Her work focuses on implementing the 2030 Agenda locally, with a particular emphasis on social sustainability. Additionally, Levonen is responsible for developing the think tank’s new program area, Equality and Democracy.

Elin Andersdotter Fabre who manages the Her City initiative at UN Habitat’s Global Public Space Programme. Previously, she served as the Sustainable Cities Program Director at the Swedish independent think tank Global Utmaning. She has experience in developing policies related to sustainable urban development, including the 2030 Agenda and the New Urban Agenda. Andersdotter Fabre has worked on various development issues, including democracy, human rights, gender equality, and security, for the UN, government offices, and civil society.

Together, UN-Habitat and Global Utmaning have launched the Her City initiative, which aims to promote sustainable and inclusive urban planning and design that incorporates girls’ participation. The initiative provides methods and tools for urban actors and cities globally to mainstream girls’ participation in their long-term strategies. They have created a toolbox, published in 2021, with a cost-efficient process for cities and communities to incorporate in their planning. The initiative involves experts and stakeholders in urban development to ensure that the toolbox is effective and relevant.

The exhibition features Col.lectiu Punt 6 from Barcelona, Spain who has been working in the field of urban planning since 2005. In my point of view one of the pioneers, they are a group of feminist activists, organizations, and associations in the Mediterranean are working towards the right to the city and spatial justice from a feminist perspective. Their main objective is to create and consolidate a network of Mediterranean feminist urban planners who work for the right to the city in different metropolises of the region from a feminist or gender perspective. The network aims to generate knowledge, visibility, collection, and systematization of experiences and practices that work for the empowerment and equality of women, men, and non-binary people in urban planning. Additionally, the network intends to contribute to processes of training, dissemination, and articulation.

The project has a territorial projection in the Mediterranean and a global scope as it aims to generate knowledge, systematize existing experiences and practices, and train different agents linked to urban and metropolitan governance in the Mediterranean. The project will also have a localized impact, as experiences will be collected from Mediterranean metropolises.

The network serves as a space for feminist urban planners to share spaces of activism, capacity building, experiences, mutual support, dissemination, and research mentoring. The goal is to create a supportive community of feminist urban planners who can work together to advance the right to the city and spatial justice from a feminist perspective.

They take a holistic approach to their projects and develop customized methodologies that are tailored to the specific context and people they work with. Their work includes research, teaching, and training for both public administration and non-profit organizations. They have worked on over 500 projects in 130 cities and towns with various public administrations in Catalonia, Spain, and Latin America. They are experts in developing feminist participatory methodological guides to address various urban planning topics. In 2019, they published a book entitled “Urbanismo Feminista. Por una transformación radical de los espacios de vida” (Feminist Urbanism: For a Radical Transformation of Living Spaces).

Ultimately featuring me, Nourhan, a feminist urbanist, a placemaker, and the founder of GamingX and “The Gendered City” which is an ongoing project and book that focuses on city planning and its lack of gender-neutrality, drawing from my series “How Cities Keep Failing Women,” which brings light to these omissions and to the subordinate situations of women in cities. Despite studies showing how urban systems fail to meet the needs of women, not much has changed since this issue was recognized. While the term “gendering” has traditionally referred to a binary male-female division, it now encompasses a wider range of meanings in both the home and the city. Despite these challenges, it is crucial for women to reclaim their place in the history of cities, assert their right to participate in public life,, and be recognized as active agents in shaping the city’s history, through sharing their own experiences and stories.

“Every day was a struggle to avoid, protect from, and prevent harm in public spaces. Could I ever truly belong in this city? Or would I forever be a stranger, moving through the streets with a constant sense of fear and vulnerability? These were the questions that haunted me, as I navigated a world that seemed determined to keep me out. But even in the midst of this struggle, I refused to give up. I fought to carve out a space for myself, and for all women like me, in a world that often felt hostile and unwelcoming”Nourhan Bassam from “The Gendered City book”.

I know that this is just the beginning of expanding the exhibition and creating a stronger platform for encouraging women’s voices, reaching out to more women, and inviting them to participate in the exhibition to make it more accessible to a wider audience.

I really believe that this advocacy has the potential to be a powerful tool for promoting feminism and gender equality. I am heartened to know that feminism is still going strong and that it is rooted in advocacy and scholarship toward achieving its ultimate goal.

It’s crucial to create a platform for all women’s voices to be heard, and I am really pleased to see efforts being made toward this goal.

Nourhan Bassam

Feminist Urbanist
Founder of GamingX
Ph.D. Candidate with the scope of sustainable communities, resilient cities, and social inclusivity

A Think-Tank which is dedicated to promoting community development and empowering marginalized groups through the creation of play spaces and active urban places in the city. Their work encompasses an exploration of gender-sensitive design practices and theories, operating at the intersection of gender, identity, urban space, and advocacy.