After her visit to New Zealand at the end of last year, Modacity’s Melissa Bruntlett posted a thoughtful reflection on gender and urban activism:
Here’s a pretty common scenario – we are invited to an urbanist meet up or a group ride and I look around to find I’m one of just a handful of women in a sea of men. Each time I think to myself, where are all the ladies? I can’t be the only one who has an interest and passion for urban design and mobility, can I? And of course I’m not. If Facebook and Twitter have proved anything, there are tons of us sharing stories and opinions on social media, supporting each other from all over the globe. So then why do so few come out to events and activities that directly link to their passions?
It’s a dilemma I’ve been pondering since we were visited New Zealand last autumn. While travelling throughout the country, we had the opportunity to meet some pretty spectacular women, all passionate about multi-mobility, be it improved cycling, walking or public transit infrastructure. From the Frocks on Bikes, a national female-oriented advocacy group focused on promoting normalized cycling with a “show not tell” approach, to politicians like Celia Wade-Brown, Mayor of Wellington, and Julie Anne Genter, a member of the New Zealand House of Representatives with the role of transport spokeswoman for the Green Party. Both are working to move their cities and country away from car-dominated transportation. They were all inspiring women to meet, and I returned home emboldened by this passionate group of women and how they are impacting change in New Zealand.
Melissa’s observations definitely ring true for me. Although most of the people working in the transport profession are men, many of our most effective advocates for transport choice and quality urban environments are women. Melissa mentioned Julie Anne Genter and Celia Wade-Brown, but there are many others who could be on the list: Penny Hulse, Barb Cuthbert, Pippa Coom, Christine Fletcher (who, remember, pushed Britomart through), and so on and so forth.
This is a good thing. As Melissa observes, men and women can have quite different perspectives on what needs to happen to improve transport options:
Maybe it’s because I know that the only way to ensure that, regardless of gender, everyone’s needs are being met is to collaborate. Women offer unique and different ways of looking at problems facing urban designers, because we think about them differently. Even between Chris and I, two people that have been together for nearly two decades and discussing all sorts of issues and challenges, it is very common that I offer a new way of looking at things because of my experiences as a woman and a mother. What works for him, a thirty-something male, doesn’t always work for me, a thirty-something female who travels by foot and bike with our two children more regularly.
Transportblog also grapples with this issue. All of our regular authors are (to be blunt) white, educated professional males, mostly in the late 20s to mid 30s. We care about issues that affect Aucklanders of all shapes, sizes, and origins, but we certainly aren’t demographically representative. (Or geographically representative – we’ve got authors in the inner suburbs and the west but not in south, east, or north Auckland.)
My concern – shared by other authors – is that there are important issues that we don’t write about of because we seldom experience them. For example, I think that we don’t write enough about transport issues facing south Auckland, even though it’s a big area of the city, with relatively low incomes, whose inhabitants could really benefit from better walking, cycling, and public transport choices. There are a lot of tricky issues that deserve close attention in the south – but I don’t spend enough time there to know what they are.
Fortunately, the available data suggests that Transportblog’s readership is a bit more diverse than our authors (or the people who post comments). Here’s a chart that Matt from Google Analytics, which shows the gender balance of readers. It really bears out Melissa’s point that women (Green) are interested and engaged in urban issues:
So, my question is: Can Transportblog facilitate a broader conversation about urban issues that allows more voices to be heard? I think – and hope – that the answer is yes. I’d like to propose a couple of things that we could do:
- First, we should encourage people to submit guest posts, especially if they offer a different view on transport or urban issues than we normally offer. In particular, we’d welcome posts from people who see a different side of the city than we do or who use it in different ways.
- Second, we should recognise that writing in public can be a bit nerve-wracking. We’re all used to it by now, but the public-facing aspect of blogging can pose a barrier for entry. We should try to lower this barrier for submitters – for example, by allowing the first guest post to go out under a pseudonym or by moderating comments on guest posts. (Not that our commenters aren’t generally constructive, but the conversations can be fairly intense.)
- Third, when writing about an area of the city that we don’t know well, we should solicit comments from readers. A quick email from one of you could give us valuable context – or a good quote – for a future post. For example, I think we should ask for reader feedback when discussing New Network consultations or proposals to build bus/train interchanges. Local perspectives can be valuable, and if people email them to us, we should use them in posts.
Now, I’m not an editor at Transportblog, so these are just suggestions rather than new editorial policies. We’d welcome your views – by comment, social media, or email – about them.