In October 2022, Glasgow city councillors unanimously approved a motion to make it the ‘UK’s first feminist city’. The motion was put forward by Green councillor Holly Bruce, and aims to make women the central aspect of ‘planning, public realm, design, policy, development and budgets.’
For too long, our streets, parks and buildings have been designed by men. The apparently ‘gender-neutral’ approach that we’ve used for centuries has meant that the male perspective has become the defaultHolly Bruce
The motion will mainly affect the 2017 City Development Plan, embedding the newly reformed town planning into the policy document for when new developments are proposed. The focus is mainly on the approach of reconsidering town infrastructure with women’s safety and mobility at the heart of plans.
This could mean widening footpaths for those with prams or wheelchairs, increasing lighting in parks and other areas at night and ensuring new infrastructure is as welcoming for a woman as they are for a man.
It also includes the perspective of women in all stages of budget distribution in the city, which follows suit of other council areas such as Edinburgh City Council and North Lanarkshire.
The work within the motion was also a focus from the Young Women’s Movement (YWCA Scotland) which is a project based in Glasgow around the time of the murder of Sarah Everard. Councillor Bruce was a participant in the research programme.
Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland with a population of over 630,000 with 51 per cent of its population being women. The city has a long history in changing the social dynamics and infrastructure.
A key recommendation from YWCA’s work was focused on the buses in Glasgow. 67 per cent of women often felt unsafe or uncomfortable on the city’s buses. The recommendation given was having one simple ticket for all modes of public transport and increased lighting at bus stops and parks.
Women are the majority users of public transport. They are more likely to work part time and have responsibilities for children, elderly friends and family, shopping for food and other necessities as well as participating in community-based activities. Traditional men’s mono-dimensional journey to work utilises regular and effective trams and trains that are defined by the rush hours of their work schedules.
They are twice as likely to have straightforward, twice-a-day travel patterns.
Women often rely on off-peak transports and journeys that are broken into different routes, changes, and connections. The ways cities are laid out often mean the nursery, school, supermarket, and other elements of unpaid labour perpetuated by gender roles are not localised. As a result, their day results in a lot of their time spent waiting and travelling often in an ineffective way.
The safety of women and non-binary people in parks is also a concern within the infrastructure of parks. The parks in Glasgow are not just used as a form of recreation or relaxation, but to get from A to B. From a feminist perspective, this should mean that anyone would feel comfortable walking through at any time of day.
In a survey by YWCA only 20 per cent of participants said they felt very comfortable in their chosen park. This was especially felt at night. Key factors to this were inadequate lighting in parks and a heightened risk of assault, harassment, kidnapping and even murder.
The 2008 murder of Moira Jones in Queen’s Park could be noted here with the murder being closely linked to femicide. The haunting ‘let me know when you get home safe’ as a common parting phrase from women springs to mind.
Out of the participants in the survey 81 per cent said improved lighting would be a solution to feeling unsafe in parks at night. Most recently, concerns were raised during 2021 as people including lone women were forced to walk through Kelvingrove Park because of a COP26 diversion.
The park is dimly lit at night causing concerns from politicians and locals that predators may take advantage of this. This came after concerns had already been raised by the University of Glasgow earlier in the year about Kelvingrove Park. The University had already endorsed a petition that called for more street lighting on both the park and Kelvin Way which is a popular route for students.
The poor lighting was deemed unsafe for a walking route for women and students. However, when politicians were forced to respond to the enquiries the issue appeared more complex than expected.
The council responded with a statement: “It is not common practice to provide lighting within any of our parks due to environmental considerations and to ensure as natural a habitat as possible for local wildlife.”
Added lighting in the evening could affect pollinators, nocturnal birds and bats.
These have just been the initial recommendations for Scotland’s largest city. Councillor Bruce has said she will investigate these but is aware there is a lot to sort before the policy can make some real difference.
This is not a localised issue, it’s worldwide. Every city in the world will have been built with men in mind.
An architectural firm in Sweden realised they couldn’t think of a single city space project that was designed with women in mind. Women interviewed in Delhi noted they rarely went to parks without a large family party. Miriam Gonzalez set up GeoChicas in Mexico after discovering that as most entries to open-source maps came from men. Sexual health clinics, domestic violence shelters, childcare and hospitals were overlooked on apps such as Google Maps. It now runs across 22 countries in 3 continents.
Glasgow making women the central aspect of town planning may prompt more cities across the UK to have a look at their own infrastructure. The feminist town planning is not an attack on men, nor is it taking away services that benefit them. Surveys from Glasgow City council in 2020 show that 21% of responders felt their needs were met with the current bus system. Changing the system does not mean it will solely benefit women, but it will directly benefit them.
Featured image – 2023 ICI Cycling World Championships and Christian Gamauf