Would cities be different if the were designed by women? | City Conversations

2015, Summit We the City, Cities, Equity + Justice, Series City Conversations

Can we make cities better and safer places for women?

While there are many inspirational female architects, planners and municipal politicians in cities around the world, the biggest decisions about urban development are often made by men. 

A 2014 campaign by Women Transforming Cities highlighted the fact that just 16 percent of mayors and 26 percent of city councillors across Canada were women. Relatedly, The Guardian has reported that all over the world urban development professions remain heavily male-dominated, more so than other spheres such as education or healthcare.  

Moreover, a recent report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, took stock of how women are faring in five key areas in our country’s biggest cities and finds that when it comes to pay, jobs, and safety, men and women still don't get equal treatment. 

Does this lack of female representation affect the design of our cities? Would our housing, office buildings, streetscapes, and public spaces look or feel any different if more women were a part of designing them? Would women fare better in cities if they played a larger leadership role?

This provocative issue was explored by Ellen Woodsworth, Chairperson of Women Transforming CitiesCarla Guerrera, Vice-President, Planning & Community Development at Darwin Properties, and Iglika Ivanova, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy AlternativesSandy Garossino, Editor-in-Chief of the Vancouver Observer moderated the conversation.

Thu, 05 Nov 2015

12:30 - 1:30 p.m. (PT)

SFU Vancouver at Harbour Centre
515 West Hastings St.
Room 1800

SFU 50th Logo

About We the City

From October 30 to November 7 of 2015, SFU Public Square hosted its fourth annual Community Summit. Through a series of imaginative and interactive events, we explored the theme of city-building. We reflected on the important role of creativity, arts and culture in building and sustaining our cities and our neighbourhoods. By profiling the increasing pressure facing municipalities by surging urbanization and considering what attracts and holds people to our urban centres, we reminded residents of the power they hold to shape their city. Together, we deliberated on possible futures where everyone can not only survive, but also thrive. We invigorated the public conversation on how people can connect with their cities, find their voice, and enjoy increased participation in civic life.

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Ellen Woodsworth

Women Transforming Cities

Carla Guerrera

Vice-President, Planning & Community Development
Darwin Properties

Iglika Ivanova

Senior Economist,
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives


Sandy Garossino

Vancouver Observer

In the News

Do Cities Make the Design Grade When it Comes to Supporting Women? — Vancouver Observer (October 27, 2015)

Developer urges women-friendly city planning — Michael Mui, Vancouver 24 hrs (November 1, 2015)

Women are getting harmed by this lack of inclusion of safety in the way we plan public spaces or communities ... walking at night, which route am I going to take that’s going to get me from where I am now to my destination — I’d probably take a different route than my male counterpart.

— Carla Guerrera, Darwin Properties

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The real estate industry and urban planners have yet to realize women are increasingly the ones buying homes for the household — and that it is for them neighbourhoods should be marketed to, according to a top female developer.

Carla Guerrera, a vice president at Vancouver’s Darwin Properties, has spent 15 years working in the development industry — in an era that’s produced such follies as sidewalks too narrow for strollers to navigate, dimly lit streets that are a hazard to public safety, and neighbourhoods where the nearest services require kilometres of travel by car.

It’s a topic she’ll be discussing as part of Simon Fraser University’s “We the City” community summit, which runs until Nov. 7.

Guerrera’s problem with contemporary cities is men were designing them with little thought as to what the other half of the population needs.

“From a development perspective, there’s a huge business and finacial opportunity with this as well — with the purchasing power women have now ... we have a huge opportunity to build development and communities really targeted and incredibly marketed to women,” Guerrera said.

A lot of this comes down to location, choosing areas most likely to have accessible and inclusive services for women — or creating new neighbourhoods sensitive to women’s needs.

“Regardless of the fact there are more women working and contributing in the work sector, there’s still a primary dominance of women in raising children, caring for parents and in home management,” she said.

“It’s those roles and that kind of lifestyle women primarily find themselves in at various stages of life are very different from men — in terms of the way they use communities, the way they use city infrastructure, city services.”

There are solutions. One North Shore property Guerrera is working on focuses on the “key principles” of a community that works for women. It’s close to schools, daycares, transit, shopping, and green spaces like playgrounds. Guerrera also targeted women in the community for feedback in the development process — voices with lifestyles often too busy to participate in traditional public hearings.

Shauna Sylvester, executive director of SFU Public Square, said the summit will feature 13 events over nine days.

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