'Public space is for everyone': Brussels to make city more female-friendly

'Public space is for everyone': Brussels to make city more female-friendly
Playground at Parc Gaucheret in Schaerbeek. Credit: Benedicte Maindiaux - Environment Brussels

As the public space belongs to everyone but is in practice often dominated by men, Brussels is launching an open call (and freeing up €80,000) for projects aimed at initiatives to make the city more female-friendly.

Numerous studies show that women and girls are not and do not feel safe in the public space, due to the lack of a gender-sensitive approach in designing spaces. As urban planning and architecture have historically predominantly been male affairs, cities are often designed from a male perspective, without taking into account the needs of women and girls.

As a result, women and girls move through the city differently, and cannot make full use of it.

"The difference in the use of public space manifests itself at a very young age: boys are encouraged to play outside while girls stay inside with their dolls," said Brussels City Councillor for Urban Planning and Public Spaces Ans Persoons.

Because of this, the layout of the public space is mainly geared toward men's needs. "Just think of the many squares with a central sports field. Girls and women mainly move in peripheral parts of such squares and therefore only rarely use the entire space."

Gender-sensitive urban planning

This unequal access and use of the public space is maintained by not integrating the gender dimension in the planning and development of the city, said Persoons. "With this call for projects, we would like to change that."

"The development of our cities still bears the scars of their history and is too often designed after the vision of men," said Brussels City Councillor for Equal Opportunities Lydia Mutyebele.

"With our Gender Equality Action Plan, we want to put the perception of gender in public space at the heart of the debate again and make Brussels a pioneering city in the field of inclusion and equality," she added. "Thanks to this initiative, we want to work hand in hand with the inhabitants of Brussels so that public space becomes equally pleasant for everyone."

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Many other European capital cities are already integrating a gender dimension in their cities: in Vienna, "gender-sensitive urban planning" is part of policy and daily practice, Paris drafted an inclusive design guideline for public space that is used as a basis when large squares are redesigned, and in Barcelona car-free places are tackled by a collective of architects who work from a female perspective.

The City of Brussels is looking for initiatives that can give the City (and policy) a push toward a gender-sensitive approach to urban development. The projects can range from a concrete intervention in a square to a series of workshops, lectures, an exhibition, or something else.

Project proposals can be submitted until 27 June. At the beginning of September, the City Council will validate the distribution of the subsidy money.

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