Cityscapes I The Need for Gendered Urban Planning

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World over, there is immense urbanisation and cities are becoming increasingly complex. In the case of cities becoming even more of a focal point of development and growth, it is important to refocus on issues of urban planning. We have an inadequate number of urban planners world over, especially in India, where we have only 1 urban planner for 4,00,000 persons. We see that there isn’t enough conversation around urban planning and that cities continue to be seen as sites of exploitation rather than as possible sites of inclusive and sustainable development. The challenge is such that the Sustainable Development Goals list ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’ as one of its seventeen goals. This column, Cityscapes, intends to examine various aspects of urban planning and sustainable cities and communities.

Gender sensitive urban planning. Unitarian Universalist Association.

Planning without accounting for gender issues cannot allow for effective social inclusion and socio-economic transformation. The lack of such planning can and does lead to reduced mobility of women and persons of other genders, reduced independence and autonomy, restriction from the use of certain services and from equal access to education and employment. It also doesn’t allow for women to benefit from public spaces and green spaces as freely, owing to concerns of sexual violence and harassment.

The needs of different genders can be starkly different and the way cities are currently designed and envisioned only account for male interactions and experiences in and of a city. However, gender inclusive planning is increasingly becoming a more important feature of municipal planning and budgeting.

How we currently plan our cities

Cities and how they are planned do not necessarily come to mind when we think of issues of gender justice. In an urban space various facets of gender inequality intersect to create a larger systemic problem: there exist underlying power dynamics between genders; unequal division of labour, overburdening of women when urban utilities aren’t provided for adequately; vastly different patterns of ownership of, and access to, housing, medical facilities, connectivity, transport, and public spaces, and space in general.

How and why women access spaces differently

Women access spaces in urban areas quite differently from men. From the mode of transport they use to the route they take is varied from that of men. Women take more buses and they also take more complex routes of travel everyday – owing to the multiple functions they fulfil. All women have a higher onus of child and family care, resultantly they need to access facilities for such care and other services more frequently. The book, Why Loiter, by Shilpa Phadke and others, also encapsulates how women always seem to access public spaces with a purpose and never to just ‘loiter’. Their access of spaces outside of their home is more purpose-driven.

Pandemic sexual violence and street harassment are key reasons that guide women’s patterns of usage of public spaces. Financial autonomy and ownership of assets (for example, a car or bike) also determines what spaces they can access without the presence of a male family member. The driving factors behind the use of and access to spaces by women is also often compulsion and not choice. Women heading households in urban poor families are majorly found to be doing so because of lack of land and property ownership for women in rural areas. Their use of these living spaces is determined by systemic barriers of unequal property and inheritance rights.

These are some among multiple patterns of how women access spaces differently in cities.

What would a city planned to meet these needs look like?

This is an introductory exploration of what a city designed to meet these needs would look like and what practices it would follow — these needs would vary with different intersecting identities and would evolve with time and locations. Some examples would be:

  1. The city would provide for transport services along routes and locations frequented by non-male persons as well, last mile connectivity would include connecting routes used non-male persons — which would mean going beyond traditional understanding of major commute routes as routes taken for work or male focused leisure purposes. This would also mean changing the way public transport is scheduled and how modes of mobility like walking and cycling would have to account for safety measures for non-male persons to access them freely.
  2. Safety measures would be more hyper localized and designed in keeping with the needs of non-male persons – this could include better lighting and patrolling on routes frequented for family care work and everyday errands in localities to the presence of emergency phones and alarm systems in public spaces;
  3. Housing design would include the safety and design needs of non-male persons, from better security systems, gender neutral washrooms, public safety alarm mechanisms, to the presence of childcare services – this aspect can be integrated into each design feature.
  4. Family care and child care would have evolved to being provided by the state, ensuring women have as much freedom to participate in the economic workforce as they like. This example of Quebec, highlighting the role of affordable childcare provisions by the state in keeping young mothers in the workforce – is indicative of this, albeit with limitations.
  5. Zoning, i.e. how areas of a city are designated for specific purposes, would ensure mixed usage to allow for women to have access to services and leisure activities in affordable and safe locations near where they live — without meaning that the cost of such housing would disallow single women access.

What steps can we take towards this?

  1. Data collection and disaggregation that accounts for gender specific needs and ensures correction of gender biases in data collection. This would also mean impact assessment that focuses on gendered impact for all governmental action;
  2. Accounting for these gender specific needs in the budget, not only as a separate section of the budget but by mainstreaming it into the entire budget – for example taking gender into account when thinking of policies related to health, housing, education, lighting, transport, etc.
  3. Encouraging political participation by non male persons, by way of reservations or otherwise;
  4. Encouraging non male citizenship participation: as voters, voting blocs, members of various citizen groups and so on;
  5. More non male urban planners would help bring varied lived experiences, changing how cities are planned.

Unfortunately, a major drawback here is that gender inclusive planning invariably means planning for women even today. It primarily consists of accounting for needs of women in urban planning and barely focuses on the needs of persons that do not identify as male or female or are non cisgender.

It is imperative that, to create cities that are sustainable and inclusive, we understand the role gender plays in the everyday life of an individual — from their learned norms, roles and responsibilities — to the functions they then carry out in their personal lives and the spaces they occupy, as a result of these learnt behaviours. While deconstructing these social norms is important, it is equally important to create spaces that account for the needs of different genders to ensure that all persons are able to derive the same use and enjoyment of, and access to, cities and their benefits — notwithstanding their gender.

Vandita Morarka is the Founder CEO of One Future Collective.

Featured image: RSAA

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Living Walls — A Solution to Reclaim Our Spaces

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Working towards greener and cleaner tomorrows.

 

One can walk under a cacophony of trees in certain areas of Mumbai, but I believe that this will only be for a few more years. I lived in a quiet area consisting mainly of 3 to 4 storeyed buildings before the beginning of uncontrolled development in the city. There was a time when I would stare up from a distance and see the clear blue sky, or yellow gulmohars in the distance. Now, all that is left are cranes and skyscrapers. Apart from the fact that the disorganized popping up of buildings is ruining whatever aesthetic value the city has left, the other major consequence of this development is the reduction in green spaces in Mumbai and other urban cities. However, with the current increase in the rate of population, especially in a city like Bombay, the urban sprawl cannot be escaped.

Now that urbanization has and continues to take up most of the space around us, green walls i.e. living walls seem to be a solution for the coexistence of green spaces in the city and the need for development with the growing population. Green walls, revolutionized by a French Botanist called Patrick Blanc, are plants grown on walls and other structures through scientific methods. Currently, they are the best bet in boosting limited spaces. Green walls make reforestation and green living possible within the confines of an urban city.

It is a well-researched fact that trees and plants are good for a person’s psychological and physiological health; from lowering stress levels to improving the immune systems. Studies have proven the effect of indoor plants on stress hormones. Phytoncide is a compound derived from plants, which seems to improve immune system functions. In fact, in 1982, Japan made Forest Bathing a part of their national public health program.

                                                                                         Photo Credit: IndiaMart

The most important benefit of having green walls is curbing air pollution. Plants improve indoor air quality and clear the air of harmful toxins and dust. Since the past few years, an increasing number of countries are experiencing hotter summers with every passing year; it will continue to get worse. Heat waves are increasing health problems, causing a general change in the working abilities and mental state of people, making them angrier and exhausted during summers, and even causing deaths. An abundance of trees and plants can lower temperatures making the city cooler. A primary school in Singapore created a vertical green wall in the school to educate its students about global warming. This green wall reduced the temperature in the school by 2 to 3 degrees.

How one can grow a vertical garden at home is explained well by Selina Sen in her article here. Most of us know about the added benefits of having plants at home, but we rarely consider the benefits of having them in our city. Individually taking up the initiative of growing living walls at home is wonderful but to reap the benefits of this concept, we need more than just in-house gardening. The true effects of this novel initiative will only be seen when there is implementation at a local and nationwide level.

Other countries have already begun making these ‘green walls’ a part of their major cities. Sydney is working on a Green Roofs and Walls Policy Implementation Plan. In Singapore, the Urban Redevelopment Authority provides incentives to builders for creating green spaces. Airports are installing green walls to ensure better journeys. Architects around the world have embraced green walls and built urban structures and buildings which have vertical gardens. It is critical that in a tropical country like India which has really begun to feel the effects of global warming, such an initiative needs to be strongly encouraged.

That being said, it is heartening to know that in India, multiple cities have taken the initiative to build living walls, Bengaluru being the first. Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Mumbai have incorporated the concept by building vertical gardens and living walls on pillars under flyovers. Environmentalists, botanists, architects and lawmakers can and must come together and learn from other models in the world and thus work together to reclaim our disregarded spaces.

 

Feature Image Credit: Stefano Boeri Architetti

 

Shivangi Adani is a Volunteer Researcher at One Future Collective.

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National Centre for School Leadership

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An answer to Indian school Principals’ woes?

School leadership is needed to develop learning communities, build the professional capacity of teachers, take advice from parents, engage in collaborative and consultative decision making, resolve conflicts, engage in effective instructional leadership, and attend respectfully, immediately and appropriately to the needs and requests of families with diverse cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, while delivering to national and international reforms and goals.

In a nutshell, school leadership is supposed to tackle all issues in education from every angle and take it to the next level. It is directly linked to the quality of teachers and school culture, which then defines the quality of education provided to our students.

And yet, the Indian spirit and philosophy regarding leadership is still conditioned by the British rule. ‘Loyalty’ and ‘hard’ work was and is still regarded over skills and knowledge. It is a common understanding that the most senior teachers in India are promoted to a school leadership position on the basis of their tenure, and not on their motivation, knowledge, skills or ability.

But there is a tide developing.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development has started to see the role of a School Principal as critical.

The National Centre for School Leadership (NCSL) was set up in 2012 by the National University of Education Planning and Administration (NUEPA), to ensure that Indian school principals are ready and successful in their roles, no matter why they were chosen for the role. The centre aims at “developing new generation leaders to transform schools so that every child learns and every school excels,” while, “enhancing leadership capability at a school level for institution building to deliver quality education.”

Wouldn’t we all appreciate that?

The centre further recommends a curriculum framework that has been designed by the collective effort of resource persons, individual specialists, mentors, national resource groups as well as the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL, United Kingdom). In the framework, six key areas are explored for school leadership trainings and development:

• Perspective on School Leadership — which aims to understand the role and impact of a leader on school transformation, and the role of a school as a learning organisation.

• Developing Self — which aims to help leaders reflect on their values, capabilities and attitudes, and develop a positive self-concept.

• Transforming the Teaching and Learning Process — which aims to make classroom practices more engaging, creative and child-focused, by expanding on schools as creative units.

• Building and leading teams — which focuses on group dynamics, opportunities for collaboration, conflict resolution tactics and teamwork.

• Leading innovations — which aims to set conditions, systems, structures and processes that support new ideas and actions within schools.

• Leading partnerships — which focuses on developing strong and fruitful relationships with external stakeholders such as parents, community leaders, officials in education departments, other neighbouring schools, etc.

This training is provided through a 10-day face-to-face programme, with a follow up through a year-long cycle of leadership development for the central school principals. The state is responsible for conceptualising and contextualising the curriculum and modules given by the NCSL, translating the work in local languages, providing additional state resources and expertise, etc. with the help of the State Resource Groups (SRGs), the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERTs), and the District Institute for Education and Trainings (DIETs), etc. The State Resource Groups are expected to develop a consortium of experts which will then act as Leadership Academies to ensure sustainability of practice and learning. The attempt to decentralise the implementation of the training — namely curriculum and material development, capacity building, networking and institutional building, and research and development — is an integral component of the programme design.

The impact of this program on the level of education and the quality of school leadership will be seen only in the next decade or so. A realistic viewing of the implementation of this program does showcase various enabling factors as well as quite a few restraining influences. Administrative apathy, lack of coordination and spread of responsibility are factors that can restrict the pace at which such training reaches the local school principals, whereas the setting of local expertise groups can enable collaboration and faster, local action in communities. Having said that, I am still very thrilled with the direction we are taking.

While I taught in a public-private partnership school in Mumbai, followed by training teachers across the city of Pune as well formally studying Educational Leadership in Finland, I saw the dire need of training and more importantly support and respect, for our school principals. The establishment of the centre has started a new drive to raise the quality and productivity of school leaders, which is more than welcome by the Indian as well as global education space.

 

Feature Image Credit: Indian Literacy Project

 

Pukhraj Ranjan is an Indian educator based out of Helsinki, Finland. She is a Teach for India 2010 cohort and staff alumni. An Educational Leadership graduate from the University of Jyväskylä, she is currently working with a not-for-profit educational organization, HundrED.org as their Global Community Manager. She believes in education as a means of understanding self and reaching one’s true potential, edu-connections and collective power.

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