Special Issue on Feminism, Gender, and Planning

by Ann Forsyth, Guest Editor

Contemporary US feminism emerged in the 1960s and 1970s at the end of a period of dramatic residential suburbanization and urban renewal. In this context, feminist work from the planning and design professions in the 1970s and early 1980s found a major focus on housing and housework. Growing female poverty and changes in family composition also shaped these early debates.

From the mid-1980s feminist planners, architects, and geographers started focusing on different groups of women and on a wider range of topics: on poorer women, cultural differences among women, issues like historic preservation and transportation, center cities, and more theoretical issues. This reflected a more general move in feminism to question what women hold in common, to question earlier assumptions that white middle class US women’s experiences were typical of all women. It also reflected the reality of gender as an important variable in a variety of issues dealt with by planners.

In the late 1990s, work on gender and planning is still, appropriately, dominated by work on women. However, the topic of masculinities is being increasingly raised by those working on issues such as gay and lesbian concerns, and ethnic and cultural differences.

The six articles on feminism, gender, and planning in this month’s Planners Network demonstrate a range approaches to the topic. The cases of Women Plan Toronto and Roofless Women, by Barbara Rahder and Marie Kennedy, vividly describe planning interventions that have made a difference in women’s lives in Toronto and Boston, ones that have also inspired projects elsewhere. Claudia Isaac and Amy Lind both analyze the approach to planning called Gender and Development, or GAD. Isaac, reflecting on her work in Mexico, argues that insights from GAD can transform community development planning in the US. Lind, drawing from the case of Bolivia, calls for an understanding of gender to be incorporated into more general processes of social and economic planning. Wanda Mills demonstrates the importance of a close analysis of the concept of gender itself through a case study of two very different approaches to gender relationships in demographically similar Puerto Rican villages. Stacey Harwood takes the issue into cyberspace, providing a set of key internet resources for those wanting to find out more about gender and planning.

The articles together show a continuing balance between work concerned specifically with women, and work integrating gender and feminist concerns into “mainstream” planning and development practice. Although the trend in planning has been toward integration of feminist and gender analyses, there will continue to be an important place for projects focused on women, as in Roofless Women and Women Plan Toronto. Although gender relations are changing and mean different things in different societies, in many arenas gender remains an important organizing principle in terms of the distribution of opportunities, responsibilities, and resources, and so will remain relevant for planners concerned with social equity for some time to come.

Finally, I would like to mention the death of Marsha Ritzdorf, an important contributor to the analysis of feminism, gender, and planning. Well known for her scholarly work on such issues as zoning and family definitions, and zoning and child care, Marsha also played an important informal role as mentor for the next “generation” of women and feminist planning academics. I certainly relied on her for advice about the life of an academic — from publishing tips to departmental politics — and I know many other women faculty for whom Marsha played a similar role. This kind of holistic mentoring is crucial in creating a scholarly community. Marsha was such a mentor and did it with humor, flair, and a unique voice that will be greatly missed.

Ann Forsyth is a past Co-Chair of Planners Network.

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