What cities would look like if women were to plan them


The Women of the World (WOW) Festival at London’s Southbank Centre in March 2016 brought together thousands of women to celebrate women and girls and look at obstacles that stop them from achieving their potential. In the session, ‘Women, Know Your Place’, Clara Greed (add preferred title), Charlotte Morphet (add preferred title), Maria Wiedner (Founder and CEO of Cambridge Finance & RE:WOMEN), and Liane Hartley (Founder of Mend & Urbanistas) presented their own personal take on the challenging question of urban cities and women.


Why are women not happy with cities as they are?

Traditionally cities have been designed mainly by men: from architects to city planners, surveyors and engineers. The primary assumption was ‘everyone’ is an able-bodied, young male cyclist or pedestrian, going from home to work in a one dimensional trajectory.

The first assumption now means that disabled access to stations, buildings and overall urban environment is lacking. The second assumption brings us to the unhelpfulness of the zoning system: home and work in two separate areas.


How does this affect the cities we live in today?

Cities do not take into account all the unacknowledged ‘work’ that people do in terms of childcare responsibilities and housework, which makes journeys more complicated. For example, trip-chain journeys – starting from home and then perhaps first taking a child at day-care facilities, and then perhaps dropping another child at school, and then eventually reaching work with the reverse journey including a supermarket visit before getting home – are not well thought of processes in our urban set-up.


What do women want?

Women and planning groups have long campaigned for a different model of urban development which acknowledges their needs.  Women in general are concerned about the accessibility of the urban design as they are more likely to be confronted with the practical difficulties of being accompanied by small children in push chairs or elderly relatives.

In summary ‘what women want’, according to European ‘women and planning’ research, is the city of accessibility, mixed land uses, of local centres, short commuting distances, good public transport.


Would cities look different if women were in charge?

To quote the late and great Zaha Hadid: “As a woman, I’m expected to want everything to be nice and to be nice myself. A very English thing. I don’t. I don’t design nice buildings – I don’t like them. I like architecture to have some raw, vital, earthy quality”.

So, cities would not necessarily look different (all pink!), but they would feel different. Women are more sensitive to the needs of the other because they have for so long been included in this definition of minority. This would make cities more integrated and user friendly.


How would cities feel like if women were in charge?

Women seem to naturally operate more in a more social way, therefore strengthening local communities would be the main feature of modern cities. Redevelopments and agglomeration schemes would feature homes, offices, grocery shops, local retailers, nurseries, schools, cafes, pubs, restaurants, gym, parks with plenty of green, accessible passages, public toilets, alternative energy production and high-speed internet connection.

Will it be the end of CBDs?

Somehow, yes. As it is now. Re-developments such as the initial plan for Canary Wharf would not be possible anymore, as it has alienated local communities and has not integrated those working in the CBD, with their families, with their retail and their accommodation needs and the existing communities.

What cities designed by women mean for the property markets?

The diversity inherent in this way new of planning and designing cities will mean that the so-called comparables in the property markets may not be as explicit. Therefore, valuers and investors will have even more reasons to debate around the ‘true’ value of a property.

This is somehow good news: this uncertainty can lead to real estate investments to be held for the longer term instead of the 5-7 years currently in practice. Longer-term investments can lead to more stability of property prices and less speculation around future value growth and economic sustainability all around.


The above was authored by Maria Wiedner, CEO of Cambridge Finance and RE:WOMEN, Clara Greed, professor of inclusive urban planning at the University of the West of England, Charlotte Morphet, senior consultant at planners Turley and co-founder of Women in Planning, and founder of Mend and Urbanistas. It is based on their Women: Know Your Place discussion at the WOW Festival.


Published by Estates Gazette on 23 April, 2016