Emotional barriers in the public space

September 30, 2013

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Women’s Environmental Rights: A Manifesto discusses a number of ways in which architecture and urban planning are influenced by the patriarchal nature of society, and the effects of this on the lives of women. The topics include the masculine symbolism of sky scrapers, the gender programmed uses of the home, and perhaps most interestingly, women’s rights to public spaces.

When Weisman discusses women’s use of the public space, the focus is initially on women with children. The difficulty of moving a stroller through a revolving door, or finding places to change a diaper are given as examples of how women are limited in their movements in public spaces.

This manifesto was written in the 80’s, and since then we have moved, and are moving closer still, towards a situation where the care for children is the concern of parents in general, rather than mothers in particular. As this development continues, the ability to maneuver public spaces with children in tow should become a question of accessibility rather than gender.

However, physical accessibility is not the only factor which hinders free use of public space. Apart from physical barriers, our movements are also influenced by emotions such as discomfort and fear. Many are reluctant of walking through a city alone at night, or using public transportation, for fear of assault. While these emotions are caused by something independent from the built environment, namely the perceived risk of aggression from other individuals, the intensity of their control over us can be influenced by the spaces we inhabit.

Something as simple as being able to get a clear overview of a space may increase the sense security, through knowing that there is no one hiding in a corner. Another aspect is the possibility to freely enter and exit a space. So, what architects and planners should try to do is create public spaces which produce a sense of safety, allowing women to move more freely in them.

 

Malin Ahlgren Bergman

 

Source:

Leslie Kanes Weisman, ‘Women’s Environmental Rights: A Manifesto’ in Jane Rendell, Barbara Penner, Iain Borden, eds, Gender Space Architecture: An Interdisciplinary Introduction, London: Routledge, 2000, pp. 1-5.

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