Female Cities Versus Male Cities


Are you staying in a  Male City or a Female City? Too stunned to answer? Well, apparently cities have gender too! And why not, we also have the Male Rains and Female rains, where male rains are the ones that cause damage, while female rains are the ones that nurture crops. Seriously! I am not making this up just for post Women's Day celebrations.

When I researched into this, I realised that a city's gender is a very interesting concept to understand the city and its functions. So I thought, lets place some facts regarding a 'He-City' and a 'She-City' and let the people choose to have a He-city or a She-city. 

Of course here I am not talking about the city for women as proposed by Saudi Arabia (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2187072/Saudi-Arabia-Women-city-planned-allow-more-females-pursue-career.html), which I think is very regressive and can further ghettoise women. I am also not talking about women oriented services like a women's college or a women's bank, which are again, in this time and age, a regressive approach to take. Here I am talking about our regular cities and understanding their planning facets to figure out in which gender city do we live.

Jane Jacobs's writing on cities, in as early as 1960s, has alluded to this 'gender biased' planning that cities have. She has alleged that men have dominated the way cities are planned, particularly in the US, leading to predominantly male cities there. Simple examples that she quotes says that Urban Planning for women and their lifestyles will be much more neighborhood oriented than polarized between work and home only. Public transport, for example, is required to be point to point, with frequent short trips for women (as they end up doing most of the household chores and children pickup and drop offs) while men require it only to connect homes and work places. Walkable, short distances to parks and grocery shops are a prerequisite for women, while it may not be preferred by men so much. Well lit, friendly street design is another characteristic that is demanded by women, as it directly impacts their sense of security on the roads, while fast moving traffic roads are demanded more by men. So necessarily, it seems that if a city offers the above aspects, it is said to be a 'she city'.

I have always said that Indian cities have many qualities that Jane Jacob propounds. We have on-the-corner grocery stores, and often walkable distances that traverse through close knit neighborhoods. Presence of hawkers, is an important element of the streets that keeps the streets full of people and often converts a road into a friendly street. We also have small parks and neighborhood gardens, closely located for easy access. We have relatively slow moving traffic on most of our roads, even arterial roads, for that matter. So should we conclude that Pune is a She-City?

I am reluctant to answer "Yes" to this question, because obviously, there are so many more reasons not too. One example, is that a woman in Pune with a small child, cannot travel easily from one place to the other, unless she has a maid to hold her child while she rides her two wheeler. We often see women on two wheelers with children strapped on with a duppatta, sending shivers down anyone's spine on the precarious risk that she has to take for the sake of moving within the city.

If she doesn't have a two wheeler, she has to walk, which means she can just about access a local grocery store and does not have the option to conduct any further transactions. Of course, she has the option of taking a more expensive mode of transport like the autorickshaw, with arrogant male drivers that may not make her feel safe during off peak hours. She does not have uninterrupted footpath where she can stroll a stroller, so she has to either awkwardly carry her child on her hip, or choose to stay at home. She has a local garden to go to, but beyond that the city shuts her out. She has a relatively friendly street to walk on, making her feel safe, but that ends when she has to cross the road with one child on her hip and another holding her hand.


So you see, if a she-city is the one that makes life easier for a woman, then obviously there are going to be very few cities in the world that make this happen, much less Indian cities. In social aspects, I will venture out and say that Pune can be one of the better she-cities, when compared to Delhi (with the recent rape incident).

Then, finally I come to a question that perhaps all the male readers will have. What happens to them if a city is planned as a she-city? So while I would like to be a feminist and take sides, I will choose not to. Because the fact of life is that we need both men and women to run and develop our cities. But a little more sensitivity towards the female needs in a city can make our cities and the citizens happier, healthier, equitable and thus more productive! After all, cities are the engines of growth of our economy and we need to ensure that we have a vibrant workforce of men and women in a gender-free city!



Comments

  1. in general agree with the views expressed herein. however we need not look at it so dualistically (she/he)else there is danger of creating somekind of gender divide. lets just say, cities need to be planned in a manner keeping in mind the 'LCM' factor rather than the 'HCF' one (remember school mathematics?). meaning to say, make the city friendly and easy to use for the disadvantaged/vulnerable sections (phy. disabled, mentally challenged, blind, kids, unorganized workforce, pregnant women, etc). by taking this approach, spontaneously we will cater to the rest of the lot too, duly gender factored.

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  2. Good job Anagha! ... Swati Chandrashekhar

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  3. I liked the views expressed by you and also agree that we need to change Pune into a women's city. ....Vishakha Lulay.

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