How gender inclusion influences urban design

In the 1970s in Berkeley, California, a group of disability rights activists called the Rolling Quads began dismantling curbs and improvising sidewalk ramps, demanding access for wheelchair users. But what people didn’t expect was that wheelchair users wouldn’t be the only ones to benefit from the intervention. Soon, pedestrians with strollers, heavy suitcases, or simply those with reduced mobility began to use the ramps. Likewise, a gender-inclusive city works best for everyone. A city where all gender minorities of different ages and abilities can move around easily and safely, participate fully in active and public life, lead healthy, sociable and active lives, is a city that improves the lives of each.

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It is with this example that the Handbook for gender-inclusive urban planning and design, published in 2020 by the World Bank, is entering its final chapter. By offering practical and theoretical strategies for creating gender-integrated cities, the manual decouples urban design from the logic that makes white, economically active men the “neutral” user of the city. Therefore, the initiatives presented by the guide seek to break with the perpetuation of patriarchal gender norms reflected in the city, patterns that began to be challenged in the 1970s, when feminist scholars in the United States and Europe analyzed the ways in which urban planning excluded the needs of women. Nowadays, more than 50 years later, this discussion is urgent, and it touches on other parameters including different minorities linked to gender identity, such as transgender, agender, genderless, non-binary, etc.

In this sense, thinking about urban planning from the perspective of gender minorities is a subject of fundamental importance, since these strategies are responsible for shaping the environment that surrounds us, which, in turn, shapes the way we live, to work and rest. To illustrate, imagine a single mother who lives on the outskirts of town and feels unsafe on her late-night journey home. Because of this, she starts working informally from home and earns just enough to live with the risk of landslides or floods. Or, imagine if a transgender man is assaulted on the bus returning from his evening class, he may drop out of school or even stop frequenting public spaces. Finally, there are many possible scenarios to describe here that illustrate how an urban environment not intended to serve these minorities can trigger serious social and economic impacts.

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#DCRainbowCrosswalks Washington, DC USA. Flickr by Ted Eytan Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In this context, gender-inclusive urban planning must be participatoryactively including minority voices; integratedadopting a holistic and transversal approach that promotes the construction of the citizen-city relationship; universalmeeting the needs of all minorities, regardless of age and ability; educative, share data and studies on gender equity; and financesetting aside sufficient resources to implement the necessary urban strategies.

In practice, according to research carried out with gender minorities in different cities, the major challenges identified in the occupation of public space and the performance of daily tasks are concentrated in accessibility, security and ease of movement. . With this in mind, many cities have rethought their urban design taking into account four fundamental criteria:


A few years ago, a group of sociologists developed a study in the city of Vienna, Austria, which showed that girls stopped going to parks from the age of nine. Already understanding the possible causes of this, a pilot project was put into practice. He renovated an existing park, including new accesses, dividing the open spaces into more private spaces with landscaping and benches that facilitate interaction, as well as the inclusion of fields for other sports such as volleyball- ball and badminton. From this strategy, a difference was noticed almost instantly in the patterns of use with a greater presence of girls and the LGBTQIA+ community, breaking the possible monopolization that was happening in the parks by boys and football. This example clearly shows what accessibility means today. Much more than making spaces physically accessible, accessibility today means that everyone can access and use public space freely, easily and comfortably.

Apart from the above case, the accessibility implemented in inclusive urban planning results in the creation of gender-neutral public toilets present in some cities around the world. In addition, the toilets incorporate adequate spaces for changing diapers (and no longer only in the women’s toilets) and systems for disposing of menstrual products.

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Students in a gender-neutral bathroom. Courtesy of Gender Spectrum Collection


Besides accessibility, mobility is a key aspect that is redesigned in urban design with the inclusion of gender. In addition to common structural strategies, such as increasing sidewalks or elevated pathways to facilitate the flow of pedestrians (who are, to a large extent, gender minorities), it is possible to perceive other logistical strategies that bring gender into the discussion.

Public transport and night journeys are constantly presented as major challenges, as they evoke situations of vulnerability and insecurity. Therefore, in order to change this scenario, simple strategies are applied in different cities around the world. These include setting up bus and train timetables that meet the needs of all genders and do not just focus on traditional travel patterns or times, and setting up a stop request allowing passengers to request a stop at any point along a night bus route. This also includes the expansion of transport networks to the periphery, the provision of reduced or free school transport to increase access to educational opportunities for children and ease the burden on mothers, or the creation of spaces separated by sex, such as buses or subways, exclusively for minorities.

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© Stefano Aguiar


In addition to mobility issues, vulnerability also lies in confined, poorly lit and poorly maintained public spaces, which can convey a sense of danger. In this context, particular attention is paid to public lighting, especially around bus stops. In parts of New York, you can see a gender-sensitive approach, like in pioneering Vienna, which made the city’s parks and streets safer and more comfortable on an individual level. In them, better lighting has been installed and semi-enclosed pockets in the parks have been created, which are visible, but still offer a reasonable level of privacy for those who are not comfortable exposing themselves under all angles, bringing more safety, especially to LGBTQIA+ groups. It’s about escaping claustrophobic, gated projects or large open plazas dominated by security lighting and wide viewing angles dictated by surveillance strategies and the protection of private property.

Another interesting initiative that is redesigned for cities with gender inclusion concerns street furniture. As with Vienna’s parks, a new bench layout seems like a simple strategy, but it can mean a lot. The usual lined up benches, which facilitate remote viewing and monitoring, reflect the masculinity of the public space. However, when positioned in opposition to each other, they create spaces for coexistence and face-to-face interactions, increasing the sense of freedom and security of the gender minorities who frequent the place.

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© Interboro


In addition to furniture, urban monuments also speak of the masculinity of public space. While elements that represent a common narrative, they have now incorporated more critical thinking, embracing representativeness and diversity. In the city of Manchester, for example, the Alan Turing memorial was inaugurated in the gay village in 2001, and in Berlin in 2008 the memorial to homosexuals persecuted by Nazism was inaugurated.

But beyond monuments, it is possible to see in many cities the creation of a “brand” or visual identity for public space that is inclusive and welcomes sexual and gender minorities of all ages and abilities. , helping to undermine public hostility and increase the sense of belonging.

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#DCRainbowCrosswalks Washington, DC USA. Flickr by Ted Eytan Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This article is part of the ArchDaily topics: Democratizing Design. Each month we explore a topic in depth through articles, interviews, news and projects. Learn more about our ArchDaily topics. As always, at ArchDaily, we welcome contributions from our readers; if you want to submit an article or a project, contact us.