Empowering women in redevelopment
Inclusive urban planning is one of the most important elements in achieving a city’s successful reinvention. The infusion of women’s perspectives, along with socially diverse input, on key elements such as planning, zoning and development are important considerations for today’s city leaders.
Redevelopment, architecture, construction and government have traditionally been male dominated, bringing about a one-sided landscape in many communities. For cities seeking inclusive strategic planning for the future, now is the time to empower women to play a role in transforming communities by supporting better representation in government, on planning committees and within focus groups, along with partnering with planning firms that bring a gendered perspective.
Research shows that women have very different viewpoints related to the urban environment in three key areas: safety, use and social interaction.
World-wide, safety in city planning is one of the main issues that concern women. According to a recent Gallup poll, women feel less safe in public spaces then men do and the gender gap in the United States is very wide, with 89% of men vs. 62% of women who feel safe walking in their communities at night.
Planning so that women and families feel safe in their neighborhoods is imperative. Increased lighting, reduction of empty lots, wider sidewalks, removal of hedges and other obstacles, may seem like small initiatives, but they are essential to enhancing the comfort and security for all residents. Men may not see the same issues that women do as they may not feel as vulnerable. Inclusive planning opens discussions about real life concerns so proper remedies can be made.
The chosen “use” of a public place is a strategic decision that will impact the long-term success of an area. Having diverse input provides new ideas that can transform a space from an occasional use area to a daily gathering spot. For example, one city in Florida had planned to incorporate an amphitheater as part of a beach redevelopment plan. On the surface, hosting occasional events seemed like a reasonable use of the space. However, when women weighed in on the idea, the space was transformed for daily use with the development of a recreation area incorporating a children’s play fountain, a yoga area and seating areas.
How and where residents interact in a city is essential to any redevelopment strategy. Social interaction areas such as entertainment districts, food and shopping areas and community gathering spots such as parks and plazas must be looked at through multiple lenses. Inclusiveness is essential to creating a thriving social neighborhood. Therefore, city leaders should engage the community and seek input from all demographics: men and women, younger and older, socially active and more introverted, in order to create sustainable and appealing opportunities for the entire community.
Women in urban planning have had success in recent years urging city leaders to understand the differences in the way women and men experience their communities and to analyze diverse opinions before adopting long-term strategic plans. However, there are still many cities that are working from a single dimensional approach, which may lead to under-utilized spaces and financial losses.
While this seems dire for cities on that trajectory, plans can be altered and improved if the right steps are initiated. Bold leaders who have created the most dynamic cities, both small and large, are ones who are constantly re-evaluating the progress of their communities and engaging all their constituents. Eliminating barriers to the planning process and engaging in discourse with a diverse cross section of the community will bring about the most innovative and dynamic cities. The process is not easy, but it is essential in creating a successful city.
As the Co-Founder of RMA, Kim Briesemeister’s approach to helping cities grow economically, has resulted in over $1 billion in private sector investment. Kim is also the co-author of the book, “Reinventing Your City: 8 Steps to Turn Your City Around,” with Chris Brown. Briesemiester has won numerous Roy F. Kenzie awards from the Florida Redevelopment Association. She is a sought-after speaker and has many professional affiliations including being selected to serve on the International Downtown Associations’ Public-Private Council. She has also served as the Past President of the Florida Redevelopment Association and the Past Co-Chair of the International Council of Shopping Centers. In addition, she is an active member of the Urban Land Institute and the International Economic Development Council.