by Stacy Harwood
Over a year ago, I began “surfing the Web” for anything related to the intersection of women, gender or feminist theory and urban planning, loosely defined. Although a frustrating and time consuming process, I managed to uncover a few gems.
In general, the materials available fall into four categories: electronic discussion groups; reference materials; research projects; and community development organizations. Below I give a few examples. Also, you can go directly to my web site to see the complete list. If I’ve missed any, please send me an e-mail:hardwood(at)rcf(dot)usc(dot)edu
I recommend that you participate in at least one of several discussion groups. ECOFEM, Studies in Women and Environment is an international discussion group to encourage exchange from a diversity of viewpoints concerning women and the environment. To subscribe send an e-mail message to: listserv(at)csf(dot)colorado(dot)edu. In the body of the message type SUBSCRIBE ECOFEM “First Name Last Name” (don’t include the quotes around the e-mail address).
Another discussion group is GEOGFEM, Discussion List for Feminism in Geography. This list is open to the discussion of all topics related to gender issues in geography. To subscribe send an e-mail message to: listserv(at)lsv(dot)uky(dot)edu.
SXSGEOG, The Sexuality and Space Specialty Group Listserv, recently formed to foster discussion about questions of sexuality and space. Send a message to:listserv(at)lsv(dot)uky(dot)edu. There is also CYE-L, Children, Youth, and Environments Listserv. CYE-L subscribers discuss issues surrounding young children, youth, and their physical environments. To subscribe, send a message to:listserv(at)cunyums1(dot)gc(dot)cuny(dot)edu
For some folks, the postings may seem irrelevant to planning or just simply too theoretical. Don’t unsubscribe until you post a message to the list! Your message can be simply a self-introduction, a brief comment about your interests or even a few questions about the field. You’ll find that at least one person has similar interests and generally has useful information. If you would like to participate in more lists, go to theWomen and Gender Related Electronics Forums Web Page. It’s an outstandingannotated listing of publicly accessible electronic lists related to women and gender issues.
As the Internet becomes a more popular medium to communicate, I’ve found an increasing number of web sites for organizations involved in planning and gender issues. One of the most interesting sites is the Metro Action Committee on Public Violence, METRAC. METRAC is a community organization and resource center that promotes the rights of women and children to live free from violence and threats of violence, and is supported by Metro Toronto Council. Urban design and planning do not create violence against women, but they do create an environment that offers greater or lesser opportunities for assault. Making public spaces safer is one way to reduce the opportunity for sexual and other assaults. The site offers general information on theirSafety Audit Kit as well as other resources on how to create safer environments.
Another interesting site is the Best Practices Database. Compiled by the Together Foundation and the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, the database contains descriptions of projects and programs designed to address common urban problems facing the world’s cities today. In particular, take a look a the 30 entries grouped under the title “Gender Equity and Equality.” The database covers a vast terrain, including housing, sustainable development, city planning, community participation, service provision, and so on. Unfortunately, to obtain detailed coverage of each of the entries, you must sign up for an account which costs $90.00. This is clearly a limitation of doing research on the Internet.
I found numerous links on the Internet to bibliographies, special collections, course syllabi, biographies and journals. Topics include: architecture, urban planning, international development, ecofeminism, geography, education, law and philosophy. I’ll recommend two for starters. The “Geography and Gender” bibliography is compiled by members of the discussion list GEOGFEM. For those unfamiliar with this academic field, the list will overwhelm you with over a thousand citations. I also recommend WE International, a Canadian-based magazine which provides a unique international forum for academics, professionals and activists. Each issue examines women’s multiple relations to their many environments — natural, physical, built, and social — from a feminist perspective. Past issues include articles on women and planning, safe cities, gender and homelessness, feminism and community development, and environmental activism.
Some people question whether the use of technological developments like the Internet undermines feminist agendas. However, I believe that the Internet is an important educational tool in the field of planning, which has a long history of resistance to alternative discourses. Feminism, regardless of which of the many kinds one subscribes to, provides an alternative lens which forces us to rethink the assumptions behind planning theories and practices. Unfortunately, the value of such debates is often misunderstood and simplified as being solely for and about women. Instead there should be a political stance about how many people in our society are marginalized by conventional models of what constitutes “normal” and typical gender-based behavior.
Feminist thought shows how gender impacts interpersonal relations between men and women, and also argues that institutions like planning are deeply intertwined with a gender system that establishes expectations for individuals and society. So I hope more people tap into the Internet and explore new ways to conceptualize planning.