Compared to boys, girls in the age of 9-12 years don‘t spend as much time in parks and on playgrounds. And while you may have the memory of boys actively playing football all around, girls are really missing. Girls like to chat and spend the time indoors, some explain. Well, you don‘t feel that quite a sufficient explanation even you, yourself not being a gender studies expert.
Girls pass through Einsiedler park twice a way. Before and after school. They cross the paths through the park and quickly disappear. The park is located in ethnically diverse Viennese district. The other group of girls we have noticed were girls from families of ethnic background. They come and look up for their younger siblings, this is quite typical situation, explains Claudia Prinz-Brandenburg, landscape architect working for Park Department of Vienna.
The pilot study consisted of several rounds of workshops with girls within one year‘s time. The results were quite surprising and showed there were no facilities for them, girls had no reason to stop here. So an inventory of the park came. Fenced, encaged basketball playground, benches, greenery and relatively poor lighting. Since there was nothing that would serve young girls, Viennese chose the strategy of quick attraction. Different elements like platforms, interactive game installations, hammocks were placed along main pedestrian roads. These elements grabbed attention of passing kids, girls among them. They stopped them for couple of more minutes. And if they are passing walking and talking and have to spend the time outdoors, why not in the park?
Anxiety and closed cages
Fear, which is a feeling hard to define by hard data was one of the results of workshops with the girls. They mentioned fear of probable danger. Widening main pedestrian roads leading through the park, improving lighting conditions – these were the first steps. The central element of the park is the enclosed cage playground which we call ballcage among ourselves.
We enter the playground. After Claudia draws out the idea of fear, for a moment I see myself being eleven years old starting teenager who would be flirting with boys while playing footbal. I could see standing groups of older boys that I dared not to look at. I could see the only door into the cage and them standing very close, controlling walk-ins and walk-outs. And their comments! Oh! The intensity of a sudden memory suprised me even as a thirty years old woman. It is the the fear from impossibility to exit the enclosed space full of strangers, this is the fear that prevents girls from entering playgrounds. To prevent that a redesign ofpark was prepared by the Park Department of Vienna in cooperation with the Coordination Office for Special Needs of Women. The fence was open from three sides and double layered at sites offering three large ways to exit the playground for safe street. Suddenly you feel it and you can breathe.
Being inside, but not necessarily in the game
Young girls like to watch the game of the others, for example – boys. It takes a little while before they start to play themselves, they like to chat among themselves. Also you can rarely see a girl coming to the playground alone, usually they come in two or in little groups. Only when they feel confident enough they go and play. The playground space is split into two by low platform that was designed for sitting and observing. After a while it became a real center where girls started to play the music, dance and all kinds of informal, spontaneous activities emerged, says Claudia. Finally we had girls in the park!
Gender mainstreaming carefully analyzes behavior and needs of girls, reorganizes space and improves its usability. It doesn’t necessarily improve aesthetics, but focus on optimizing functions.
In Einsiedler park we see two playgrounds out of which one is designed for basketball and football. The other one has no signs, no equipment, nothing. With its zero design it is the space for informal ball games. Had we designed the playground, we would immediately formalize another space for football and basketball, games usually performed by boys. Girls tend to play games using whole body, including singing or chatting, throwing ball.
The effect is that boys and men usually occupy one side of the playground, while the other is used by girls and mixed groups.
Einsiedler park serves as a central living room of the district. Since the flats are really small here, people tend to spend quite a lot of time outdoors. To be outdoors is partially a culture, partially a necessity, especially for people of ethnic background and low income. So are sisters taking care of their younger siblings on typical playground for the youngest. Here, however they have no place to talk or play themselves. Park Department designed another playground, game elements just next to the place where their siblings are. They also placed tables and benches into the playground for kids below 6 years of age, so their baby sitters can sit inside while having their own space. Two groups of different needs were combined in one space while keeping open-ended options for both of them.
I am passing through the park that looks nothing special at the first sight. Neither elements, nor materials look any special, hyped by design or another novelty. Still I find myself quite amazed by this behavioral explanation. Gender mainstreaming carefully analyzes behavior and needs of girls, reorganizes space and improves its usability. It doesn’t necessarily improve aesthetics, but focus on optimizing functions.
Did you achieve what you set out to do?
Oh yes, after a year we did an evaluation study and found out that the number of girls present in parks increased. So did the amount of informal activities. Results of this pilot project were summarized into guiding principles adopted by Park Department which have been used in design of any new park since then, sums up her part of the walk Claudia Prinz Brandenburg.
Question of Politics
Achieving the knowledge is a thing of expert nature, to pass on the changes – unfortunately – is something quite different.
For me everything started when I gave birth to my twins. I had to push a giant double stroller over sidewalks of Vienna. Surely you can imagine how terrible that was – cars, narrow, uneven sidewalks, dark corners when one does not see. I immediately realized that life in city does not give the fair chances to women, especially mothers, says Renate Kaufman, sharp woman of grey eyes that directly find their target. Former teacher got incredible sensitivity towards needs of children and parents. Later on she joined politics and two years ago she concluded her fourteen years long mission on as a Chairwoman of 6th Viennese District that became the pilot district of gender mainstreaming implementation.
Fourteen years, that is quite a time! I say to myself, I – the citizen of Central European space used to four years long political cycles that bring complete opposition towards urban planning policies of the former establishment. Political discontinuity is not efficient, but rather destructive and in its best it is – tiring. Human life however flows continually, from day to day, from year to year, slowly turning decades. It is full of duties and roles that are happening in a physical space of the city. Back home, politics is perceived as a game of sharks, dominant types discouraging more compassionate types from entering it. And when we think of our urban planning it is still considered rather a technical discipline. Parametric control over indicators of traffic, quotas on areas that are be built or not to built, volumes, heights, areas designed as development areas, all of this gives us false feeling that we are planning our cities rationally, ergo, good. But where in all of this we can find true understanding of everyday human life? Try to go even further and bring the term gender equality into this hard professional environment.
Some municipalities tuned onto words like participation and sustainable development. We are still, however only starting. Reality of participation turns into overuse of surveys, but not a real understanding of groups representing wide range of users. We are still witnessing unprofessional processes which on the top of that are not properly paid. Awareness however kicks in and urban planners and some municipal representatives start to speak about manuals of public spaces.
How to design good public space? For whom?
What kind of people?
Well, here is where I usually don't get the answer much further. But this is the space, the opener where you can really start to get interested in the layer of gender and gender equality. Gender mainstreaming (balancing opportunities for men and women) was implemented in Vienna in 90ties under the directive of European Union. Here is also where I stop using the passive voice. Gender mainstreaming grew into urban planning by pragmatic and practical work of Eva Kail, urban planner who had her own aha moment in 1991. She organized the exhibition Who Owns the Public Space and became interested in connections among old woman, mother, woman of ethnic background, girl using the city. She studied methodologies of gender mainstreaming in architecture and urban planning being already a norm in Germany. Later on, being an employee of Urban Planning Department of the City of Vienna, she started to lobby for budgets. Budgets for pilot studies of user behaviors, budgets for pilot projects – just like the one in Einsiedler park. During her career she was able to assist in more than 60 pilot projects, covering practical aspects of gender mainstreaming and gender equality in housing, transportation, planning and design of small scale public spaces, just like the ones of large scale.
If you want to do something for women, do something for pedestrians.
Results showed us women walk and use public transport more than men. Men are more frequent car drivers. Why? Well, this is connected to life roles and duties. If a woman is a mother or care taker, her way through the city is more complex. Men take cars and go to work and back. Usual. This pattern has not changed even in 2016. So, if you want to do something for women, do something for pedestrians, says Kail.
If women are the major client in public space, how it should function? Try to look at it through eyes of mothers, girls or elderly women. The differences will come out of quite simple observation. The rest is a question of common sense and measures taken.
How did you achieve all of this in your neighborhood? I ask Renate Kaufmann, who energetically lead our group through the streets and explain why the sidewalks are lower here, why the light was placed there or why the mirror, at all. She is much more persuasive than the gender expert herself. In politics I love to fight for the right causes, she looks at me and for a long time I have nothing to say...
The article is inspired by guided walk during the study trip Gender Mainstreaming in Urban Planning organized Heinrich Boell Stiftung Prague and a platform supporting gender sensitive planning and women expertise in urban development disciplines WPS Prague 12.-14.10.2016