The city of Vienna was used as an in-depth case study for Amelia’s final year dissertation that explored the extent to which urban planning influences gender inclusivity - here are some of her findings.
The capital of Austria has aimed to enhance gender inclusivity and become a gender-neutral city through all aspects of public life, including the make up of the built environment. The World Bank considers Vienna to be a successful example of how good design and planning is responsible for making an urban area equal and accessible for the entire Viennese population and its visitors.
So, how has the city of Vienna done it?
The conversations started when a group of planners, led by Eva Kail, organised a photography exhibition entitled Who Owns the Public Space focused on portraying women’s travel patterns around the city in the early 1990s. Following this, a women’s office, Frauenburo, was established. Vienna has adopted gender mainstreaming principles, which ensures both men and women are equally accounted for in legislation, policy and resource allocation. These gender mainstreaming initiatives have been put into practice across areas including transportation and connectivity, accessibility of public services and the creation of mixed-use developments that provide a space suiting everyone’s different needs.
Men and women navigate and experience cities differently and this is reflected in transportation movement patterns which often enhances gender inequalities. A transportation study conducted a decade ago found that in Vienna, women were almost ten percent more likely to cycle than men. Since, there have been city-wide strategies to improve cycling, making it almost the hierarchy of transportation. For example, separating bike lanes from cars, improving public bike storage and lighting so it is also accessible and safe at night.
A 1997 study in Vienna focused on the gender segregation in public parks. It found that girls are less likely to go to parks as they are frequently dominated by boys playing football. The city made parks more accessible to girls by creating spaces for groups to sit and facilities to play other sports, separated by footpaths. This essentially created a mixed-use development but within a smaller area. Vienna has already carried out over 60 different projects that have used gender mainstreaming in urban design and has assessed plans for another 1000.
The Local Women’s Commission in Vienna organised group night walks that identified spaces that needed more lighting, wider pavements and dropped curbs to improve accessibility and safety. This allowed policymakers to understand first-hand how women in Vienna saw and experienced public space. Rather than pavements often only getting lighting at night for the cars, Vienna implemented well-lit paths through parks, bike lanes and bicycle storage sheds. In the Resselpark at Karlsplatz, every path and bike stand were lit through a campaign that then focussed on lighting in 200 parks across the city. It was recognised that parks are often shortcuts so should be designed to be safer routes for women to walk rather than walking next to roads or down alleys. Another gender mainstreaming initiative implemented across the city planned to make spaces more accessible to women with prams, wheelchairs, shopping or young children was the installation of outdoor public lifts.
Vienna‘s public spaces have been planned to not only make women more visible but to work around women’s needs. It has many similar traits to cities across the UK so gender mainstreaming initiatives could be adapted to UK legislation and strategies to make our urban areas better spaces for women.
If you’ve visited before, did you feel the city was a safer space for women? Were there noticeable differences in the makeup of the built environment that it more accessible and safer for women?
Vienna is a prime example of how, even a historically laid out city, can be adapted to suit the needs of a whole population. It should be used not only as a case study for a dissertation but a way in which we should be designing and planning our communities to be more inclusive.
Some further resources that helped us in writing this include:
Bauer, U. (2009) Gender Mainstreaming in Vienna How the Gender Perspective Can Raise the Quality of Life in a Big City. Kvinder, Køn & Forskning. Issue 3-4. Denmark: The Royal Library.
Clarke, I., Walker, S. (2020) Vienna. UK: Make Space for Girls. [online] Available at: https://makespaceforgirls.co.uk/vienna/
European Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life. Vienna – a model city for Gender Mainstreaming. Belgium: Council of European Municipalities and Regions. [online] Available at: https://charter-equality.eu/exemple-de-bonnes-pratiques/a-model-city-for-gender-mainstreaming.html
Hunt, E. (2019) City with a female face: how modern Vienna was shaped by women. Vienna: The Guardian. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/may/14/city-with-a-female-face-how-modern-vienna-was-shaped-by-women
Illien, N. (2021) How Vienna built a gender equal city. UK: BBC. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.com/travel/article/20210524-how-vienna-built-a-gender-equal-city