This is a guest post from Emma, one of the founders of Women in Urbanism Aotearoa

Cities are meant to be our greatest invention, where people can thrive, prosper and be happier because of close proximity to other people – the closer to your neighbours you live, the more tolerant, innovative and connected you’re supposed to be. But “cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody,” Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

As a young woman, I don’t yet feel like Auckland provides or is a safe city for me. Not necessarily because of violent crime or proximity to volcanoes, but because of a whole bunch of little things that lots of men don’t ever see or hear about. I acknowledge that Auckland has been trying to lift its “livability” game of late, but at this point there are still so many situations that make me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome as a user of this city.

Auckland City leaves me exposed and too unsafe, too often. Probably because I ride a bike. But actually, I also don’t ride my bike often enough. I have to summon up a lot of courage to tackle Auckland roads. It’s not just because cycling on our roads means mixing with buses or that it’s expected by some that I’ll be safe if I bike along green paint. It’s also because of the endless unseen abuse.

I’m verbally harassed regularly when out on my bike – yelled at, “cat-called”, “eyeballed” or just told to “fuck off”. Maybe this happens because the city is so over-engineered and out of scale that when something as normal and as real as a girl on a bike comes along, men seem to think they are ‘invited’ or ‘encouraged’ to react.

One very typical example: recently I was cycling around the Ponsonby Road / Karangahape Road area. I was feeling pretty uncomfortable using the road. There were too many cars and they were going too fast. I cycled onto the footpath instead, hoping for a bit of relief. Instead a boy actually tried to grab me while I was on my bike, making me feel incredibly uncomfortable and a little scared. I told him not to touch me. He and his friend walked away laughing. I got back on the road to then be harassed by drivers -typically older men shouting or staring intently from their cars. All the while I was just trying to stay alive on this dangerous stretch of road with no cycling priority (yet).

This behaviour is well documented by Kirsten Day, author of ‘Feminist Approaches to Urban Design’ who finds that women are less likely to approach strangers in public, and yet are more likely to be approached. A perfect commute for me would be skipping Mt Eden Road and Symonds Street, so I wouldn’t have to feel the eyes on my back and hear the vulgar and aggressive comments from car commuters. Te Ara I Whiti, the pink lightpath, is a refuge for me. Despite not having street frontage and being a bit out of my way, it works surprisingly well at making me feel safe and welcome in my city. Our protected cycle lanes are not just a barrier to motor vehicles. They’re a barrier to harassment. And it’s a shame we still have too few barriers to harassment and too few environments designed for the safety and comfort of women in Auckland.

Of course it’s not just women that we need to design for – we need our cities to be awesome and function for everyone. But the best way to do this is by getting our priorities in the right order, and flipping the “pyramid” to focus on women, women of colour, new New Zealanders, wāhine, people with disabilities, the elderly and children first. The already perfectly comfortable men can take a back seat.

By designing cities that are more accessible for these groups, we’ll make cities better for everyone- including men. This means cities with good urban design, quality housing near where people want to work and play, and efficient, connected transport choice.

At a higher altitude ‘designing cities for women’ doesn’t seem that different than just “designing cities,” but individually, for each women, this change of focus would make a world of difference.

I’m not the only one who thinks we should be designing our cities with women in mind.

For example, Stockholm housing company Svenska Bostader is addressing the need for “equal public space,” by designing with feminist urban planning at the forefront of every design detail. Their project area is in the Stockholm suburb of Husby, where the female residents have long reported feeling unsafe around their metro station.

Svenska Bostader are actively engaging with the female residents of Husby by making their needs the design priority. Through workshops, they’re figuring out the places women most feel unsafe. Some measures to address the safety issues in Husby include more and better street lighting around the metro, and a “women-friendly” cafe and meeting space in the heart of Husby.

The United Nations also agrees that the area of Women in Cities needs more attention. Many of the world’s poorest people live in cities, and the majority of our poorest people are women and children. They also face the most risks. They are subjected to harassment on the streets, on public transport, and in their neighbourhoods. The abuse ranges from verbal harassment, to rape, and it’s particularly high where the quality of transport is poor and public spaces are unused.

The UN is leading a joint programme with UNICEF and UN-HABITAT called “safe and friendly cities for all.” They’re pursuing strategies in cities like Brazil, Honduras, Rio and Lebanon, like safety audits to identify risk in urban spaces, similar to Husby. Practical measures include more street lighting, more police units, and “ensuring Female Councillor-led committees monitor the responses to sexual violence, abuse and crime.”

Of course there’s plenty more action being taken on the issue of Women, Cities and Climate Change, but this is just to give you a sense of the problem and some things that could be done to address it.

Back in Auckland, we need to focus on the following three things, so we can prepare a sustainable and safe city for everyone.

  1. Replace endless sprawl with clever, sustainable compact design.

Our cities suffer when sprawl happens. But women are most affected. Isolated suburbs often leave mothers for example, caring for the household while trying to keep a paid job with limited access to amenities like schools and supermarkets (Day). We need to focus on connected, mixed-use, local neighbourhoods with shops, schools, transport hubs and other amenities located within all residential areas. We need a compact city.

  1. Improve transport choice. Improve mobility freedom for women.

We need to improve transport choice. This means frequent trains and buses at all times of the day. Waiting for public transport, alone at night, can feel, and is unsafe.

We also need better cycling infrastructure. One example is the Northwestern cycle way. It’s fine when cycling in the middle of the day with friends. But it’s poorly lit after dark, and the high fences on either side are unnerving. There’s plenty of evidence that shows designing protected, on-road facilities, will have safer outcomes for users. And these areas must be well lit.

And as Josephine Hazelton puts it in her excellent essayThe Shocking Connection Between Street Harassment and Street Lighting:”

“these safety concerns are multiplied for women of color and gender non-binary people who face disproportionately high levels of street violence. We’re desperately in need of an intersectional approach to urban planning and street lighting standards to ensure cities are safe for everyone. Intersectional transportation planning recognizes the diversity of mobility needs, and works to include a wide range of viewpoints in urban planning conversations.”

Auckland should also be aiming to become more walkable. Mt Eden Road (and ditto many other Auckland arterial roads) critically lacks formal crossings, especially around areas where there are bus stops. If I, as an able-bodied person, find our roads and streets anxiety inducing to cross, it’s alarming to imagine the experience of those pushing prams, or in wheelchairs, or moving slowly due to age, or – as children – constitutionally less able to judge traffic speeds and gaps.

  1. Crime prevention through urban design to improve public safety for women.

We need eyes on the street. We can do this by creating public spaces where people feel comfortable enough to move through or stay a while. The more active places are, the more they benefit from passive observation (e.g. people in apartments or shops keeping an eye on the street), and the more inviting they are, the more tempted you are to engage with the street life. Shared spaces are a great example of this (if you take traffic dodging out of the equation), where people are freer to pay attention to shops, restaurants, and each other. These strategies can help solve problems like women getting unwanted attention.

In my view these are the basic issues we need to address to improve our cities. But really we should be setting our sights much higher. We should be aiming for wonderfully attractive, creative, inspiring and inclusive spaces and places in our cities. Safety should be the bare minimum, not the bar. It’s also important for me to acknowledge that I don’t and can’t speak to the experiences of all women. I am very privileged to have a short commute to work, a job that has regular daytime hours, and easy access to local amenities. There are plenty of women whose situations in Auckland are very different to my own, and in many cases their mobility struggles and experiences of the urban are much more challenging. I would like to hear more about the experiences of other women, and I hope this blog helps open up that conversation.

I haven’t blogged before because I’ve never felt like Greater Auckland was a particularly safe or inclusive place for me. Especially due to the comments section.

Partly as a response to this I helped to form the group, Women in Urbanism Aotearoa, because I was hearing the same story from other women who are interested in urbanism or are in the industry. Since the launch we’ve seen huge demand at our events and within our private group, where over 500 women, who are into urbanism, regularly share ideas and communicate. We’re changing the way we have conversations about our cities, and we actually do want to be part of the conversation you’re having here, but like our cities, you have to make space for us.

Cities are designed by and for a particular segment of our population – cough cough “middle aged, professional white men”. As Kirsten Day puts it: “active, able-bodied, single, adult commuters” who are largely the focus when it comes to the design of transport systems, contemporary architecture, zoning and even downtown lunch options (men are even admitting it’s the case).

City design, historically, does not account for the needs and lived experiences of the most vulnerable but instead looks after an already privileged few. City design dominated by male engineers, male architects and male executives doesn’t actively focus on the needs of women, but it should.

If cities really are our greatest invention then we should design for the most vulnerable, passive side of humanity, rather than those in the most dominant, comfortable positions.

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  1. Wonderful post thanks Emma. As my gentle, musical teenage son finds his way around the city, often at night, I wish anew that the safety improvements I’ve yearned for all my life could have been implemented. By speaking about what we need as women, we are calling for improvements for all. Luckily this is acknowledged and appreciated by a wide swathe of urban designers.

  2. The issue of whether to design on-road (eyes on the street) or off-road (less common harassment, less traffic danger) cycleways is interesting, and you describe well the benefits of each. As a mother who has raised cyclists, I find that the off-road cycleways win hands down. The unpredictability of young children’s movements fit far better away from traffic. And as the children start cycling by themselves, there is much more peace of mind for mum if they are on an off-road cycleway.

    In retrofitting Auckland, though, we need to use whatever routes we can. Designing the best off-road and on-road cycleways is more important than pushing for one or other type, which could just stymie the cycleway building process.

  3. Excellent article, thanks Emma – keep it up. It’s certainly an area of city design that concerns me – should concern us all – but is so often ignored. Designing a walkable, safe city that works well for the most vulnerable members of our community actually benefits us all. If we design for the very oldest people in our community, and for the very youngest, it means we aim for footpaths and means of public transport that will be flat, seamless, not interrupted by speeding motorists etc – all that helps the rest of the population as well.

    As my mother gets older, I’ve become more aware of this – I used to be able to walk with her across roads, up and down hills, etc – but now we stick to simple routes, with as little crossing of roads as possible – and at the pace of a very elderly person, even crossing simple suburban roads can be terrifying. Similarly, parents (normally mothers) with children in prams or those taking baby steps – become hyper aware of the roaring wheeled death only feet away. It’s a huge issue.

    1. The absence of safe crossings is a big problem. Particularly in and around supposedly walkable town centres. To a fit solitary pedestrian, safe crossings would seem irrelevant as they dash into gaps between 60+kph traffic wherever they choose. But with young kids or the elderly or less able, the same spots make you feel stranded and at risk. Kerbed so-called “refuges” certainly don’t deserve that title only encouraging motorists to speed up around the false protection they appear to provide from behind the wheel.

  4. Important article. And fantastically there’s another one today that completely supports your call for other voices, particularly female, be heard on the issue of city building:

    Also making a strong case for the value non-specialist input into transport infrastructure provision. This field is currently an echo-chamber of the same type of people using very narrow metrics that exclude far too much that is important, and that always output the same answer: more urban motorways. This is not making a great nor even efficient city on its own terms, let alone on the wider terms that should be included.

    1. I also agree with the author’s pondering on “the ways in which academics can contribute to their communities.” In my latest design project, no-one seems to be in the role of providing expert research. Yet we needed it. The attitudes expressed: “we need more parking”, “the problem is the behaviour of cyclists”, “but everyone still needs a car even if they’re on a main transport route” and “well, drivers shouldn’t be delayed for pedestrians” aren’t going to bring about a better suburb design.

      I see the importance of local academics being involved in citizen activism.

      1. Heidi yes! Sadly Auckland has a poor history of intervention in public life from its universities, either silence, or status quo support.

        With a few significant exceptions, particularly Dame Anne Salmond who has done amazing work with and for Maori and the nature world, especially rivers, for decades, and at some not insignificant personal cost…

        The few cities that resisted devastation by urban motorways in the mid-late 20thC the fight against them was lead by academics and students. Vancouver for example. Our city had no such public intellectual support from UoA.

        1. Such support could have been useful even in the last 10 years. Hmmm… was the Vancouver support from academics in transport engineering, or notably from those in other fields?

        2. Hi there, I’m at UoA doing a phD on playful cities – what sort of research do you think needs to be done? Or is also the case of bringing attention to the research being done to the wider consciousness?

        3. Hi Alex, playful cities sounds like a subject almost fun enough to avoid the general PH.D depression – good luck! That could be useful in a current town centre design I’m involved in where we need some compact active social recreation facilities… 🙂

          Yes there’s plenty of research available – it’s the bringing it to the wider consciousness that isn’t really happening. Research that could have helped citizen groups to resist the motorway building would have been good. Where are the NZ researchers studying dynamic land and traffic models, for example who could have ripped apart NZTA’s Four Step Model? Plus local research into effects of road reallocation and compact urban design.

        4. A quick clarification – UoA did play a role here but they supported the motorways, rather than leading the opposition (full story here, unfortunately behind a paywall Auckland would benefit from more public input from academics although platforms for this are limited (although the new NZ edition of The Conversation is a promising option).
          Have you considered inviting local academics from UoA, Massey or AUT to do guest posts based on their research?

        5. Thanks for that Bex. I think there’s an article to be written here, also including what is taught at university, and who provides funding. GA, I think Bex’s idea to invite local academics to do guest posts is a good one.

        6. Simon Kingham – one of my lecturers at University of Canterbury has been fulfilling this role in Christchurch to some extent. He is very strong in support of cycling, PT and good urban design.

  5. An interesting post with almost too many interesting points worthy of discussion. Expect plenty of comments. I suspect you may lose some readers with a remark like “” to focus on women, women of colour, new New Zealanders, wāhine, people with disabilities, the elderly and children first.”” it leads to obvious comments such as why not just say ‘lets ignore able-bodied non-immigrant males’ and why separate ‘women’ from ‘women of colour’ – mildly offensive to my wife.

    As I read it the meaning of city seemed to change – to start with I thought it was about CBD and its surrounds and then it included the construction of ‘endless sprawl’.

    City centres provide expensive office space and so disproportionately are occupied by young graduates and since the majority of graduates are women and many men prefer rural and outdoor jobs our city centres are rapidly changing from majority male to majority female. So they will become far safer.

    You may consider the North Shore as ‘endless sprawl’ but the fairly low density housing does lead to pedestrians acknowledging one another – as they do in villages the world over. My experience in living in London and New York was careful avoidance of eyes. I prefer Auckland where you nod your head and maybe add ‘nice day’ or ‘good morning’. High density living can be very lonely.

    The statement “”Many of the world’s poorest people live in cities, and the majority of our poorest people are women and children”” seems to be confusing Auckland and Mumbai/Calcutta. Which is not to deny our own growing problem with poverty (in my opinion caused by unplanned rapid population growth and the demise of social housing).

    You will never persuade me that cities are our greatest invention.

    However there was plenty to agree with and led me to wonder what is the gender makeup of Auckland’s town planning department.

    1. I don’t know the answer to your last question but I do know the gender make-up of planning teams for some of Auckland’s largest private developments – very male-dominated; in some cases there are no women. Also they’re often trying to pitch to the younger demographic but have an average age somewhere between your age and mine. And the designs suffer for it.

      Bob, you noticed lots of interesting facets. But I’m not sure you’ve really tried to see the point.

      Our city’s design has been hijacked for over half a century by car-centric design. This has been led by car-enthusiast men who only saw the need to get commuters to and from work at peak hour, in their cars. The city is much the poorer for this skewed priority.

      The legacy of this bad design has affected many different aspects of the city, and many different demographics. I am one – I am fed up that AT will still not allow us to prioritise pedestrian amenity and safety over traffic flow through on our suburban streets. But no-one knows all the aspects of city design and demographics that have been marginalised by the roads-first design. Some issues may never have been verbalised.

      We need to find out. We need to engage many more people in the interests of a better city. To pick apart Emma’s list of possible affected people is unhelpful, Bob. Your input is welcome. Your wife’s input is welcome. For heaven’s sake, there are designers just wishing the input of your multigenerational multiethnic suburban family could be harnessed.

      Stop splitting hairs when people dare to call for change.

      1. You see the post as about cars but I saw it as about safety and perceptions of safety. We are both dealing with matters related to growth. A small own is well suited to cars – say Dargaville for example but as a small town grows into a big city cars are impossible (as proven many times in this blog site) and the bigger it gets the worse it gets. Your are right there is a car legacy issue. Another issue with growth is crime; as cities get bigger crime increases. Of course it depends on the culture so Japanese cities are more violent than their villages but may still be less violent than equivalent cities in western countries.

        However crime can be alleviated by good design and that I thought was the point. For example as the author points out not all the new cycleways are well designed – high fences and poor lighting. It takes time and energy and thought to write these articles so it would make sense not to alienate some of the readers.

        I don’t know if it is true of Auckland but many years ago a sociologist in the UK pointed out that the people least worried about a random violent attack in a public place was a 20 to 25 year old male and the most concerned was a 60 to 65 female. However that actual statistics were the exact opposite with young men attacked and elderly women safest. Perception does matter – my middle aged neice does not use the pleasant woodland paths in North Shore if she is alone but I do – which is unfair. However it is not just women who worry about their safety – in London I used to work with a young man who was over 2 metres tall and big boned but he was a very peaceful guy totally lacking in aggression and would have been useless in a fight; he had trouble just having a quiet drink in a pub because yobs would hassle him looking for a fight to prove their manliness. I too have avoided any physical fight all my life. The article would be more effective if it spoke to all aucklanders concerned about their safety in public spaces.

        And a Melanesian woman is a woman otherwise some readers would be women of no colour.

        1. Yes good design is the point. There were many other interesting points in your comment that I’ve not read or researched enough to comment on, such as differing issues in Mumbai and Auckland. I’d love someone to pick up that issue…

          Also, it’s years since I’ve looked at the more crime in big cities thing… I found this interesting, though. Could be rubbish, l don’t know:

        2. Bob, excuse me for coming back to the issue – but you give a lot of thought to things, so if I need to shift my understanding, I’d like to do so. Is it mildly offensive to your wife really? Here’s the list Emma gave: “to focus on women, women of colour, new New Zealanders, wāhine, people with disabilities, the elderly and children first.”

          Lots of people might fit into two or more of those categories. Being in one doesn’t mean they are somehow excluded from another one as you have suggested with “And a Melanesian woman is a woman otherwise some readers would be women of no colour.” I can’t see how a call to focus on design for all these people could be offensive to any of them just because they might fit into more than one category.

        3. Women of colour is a subset of women. So if you focus on the first the second is implied. No need to introduce colour.

          The comment about crime was lifted from Geoffrey West book ‘Scale’.

        4. But if I was to read a list “to focus on women, women engineers, mothers, middle aged women, etc” I wouldn’t take offence that I’m in all those categories. Of course “women” covers them all, but to list them all separately also shows the intent to specifically investigate the needs of those particular types of women as a way to ensure they are not overlooked by a general focus on “women”.

    2. “You may consider the North Shore as ‘endless sprawl’ but the fairly low density housing does lead to pedestrians acknowledging one another – as they do in villages the world over.”

      This may be true during daytime hours but walking Auckland suburban streets is an entirely different experience after dark. Therefore, as a woman, my perspective on the experience of living in NZ suburbs vs large overseas cities differs greatly to yours. Yes, there is often a careful avoidance of eyes in large cities as you say. But there is also a sense of the ‘passive observation’ that Emma referenced in her article – there are always other people walking around at night, giving a feeling that you have been ‘seen’. Now that I live in Auckland, I no longer walk the streets of my inner city suburb after dark as I found I was always the only person walking around – due to Auckland’s heavy reliance on cars people just drive straight home to their house leaving the footpaths empty. During these early attempts to walk the ten minutes to the local main strip I felt frightened and have often run home because I knew that if anything happened there would be no witnesses – in spite of these streets being lined with houses. I once passed a man with a dark hoodie and I had to pretend to walk up to a random front door to make him think I had arrived home. Would a man ever have to resort to such a tactic to feel safe?

      I had the same experience of lonely night-time streets while staying with family in Los Angeles, another sprawling, car-dependent city. In contrast, I have never felt so safe walking home after dark in Paris and London and I miss that sense of security and freedom intensely.

      1. “Would a man ever have to resort to such a tactic to feel safe?” I imagine that quite a few would. I know that at least one of my male friends has done just that at least once – He’s not big and strapping. I also used to date a lady who was tough as nails and was more than capable of handling herself in a fight – The point: Gender doesn’t determine how safe a person feels, but it can (due to our culture) predispose one to undue risk.

        1. Are you after causality now? Once women and men both feel safe we can do a retrospective on what the causes were and how we changed them. For now we can just respond to the bald statistics. Women don’t feel anything like as safe as men do.

        2. Don’t need to do a retrospective. We already know that when a portion of society is isolated or otherwise separated, that portion of society does poorly. In this case, there are environment factors (lighting, scheduling, cycleways, etc) and cultural factors (it’s ok to stare at women, it’s ok to call gays fags, etc).

          I was addressing that some men have walked to a strangers front door, _not_ arguing the fact that women normally don’t feel as safe as men.

        3. Thank you for your insightful comment. Next time, please try and be constructive.

          I may not agree with your future comment(s), but if you’re constructive I’ll be less likely to think of you as simply a troll.

        4. Well done Jon you’ve totally screwed up the comments thread through your massive concern trolling for every other possible person who might feel marginalised.

          Ask yourself why you felt a need to do this?

          Then piss off and stop dominating the discussion with a mass of boring navel gazing.

      2. Katy: That is a fair point. Some suburbs are safer than others and it is probably getting worse. I do know that when my daughters delivered pizza there was just one street in North Shore where they would not deliver.
        I have had moments of nervousness when passing a group of teenagers wearing hoodies and the later in the day the more nervous you feel. My family has no problem walking home (over 1km) in the dark if it is say between 6pm and 7pm but the same walk at 10pm would risk meeting drunks. I suppose this is one reason for the ubiquity of car ownership in the suburbs.

    3. A place where you say hi to your neighbours. In other words, how to build a city where people can still form a community. Good question. Cities are places where you see a lot of faces, but they’re all strangers.

      And modern cities? It seems this concept of social life is as obsolete as riding your horse carriage to work. See our shiny new subdivisions, with just houses, the Sea of Parking, and the mall. How is community life in malls?

      Or: imagine you’re living in an apartment in the CBD. There’s no common space in apartment buildings where you may mingle with your neighbours. If you step outside your apartment building you’re in this inhumane, oversized and car-centric place that is our street network. Every metre of public open space nearby is parking.

      And I think you’re overrating low density suburbs. I remember riding my bicycle around Glenfield. There’s something surreal about that. Those strangely wide streets, high fences left and right, cars, and no other human beings around you. You’d almost think the place was uninhabited, but the cars on driveways tell you otherwise.

      So if you’re expecting social life, manage your expectations I’d say.

  6. Interesting article Emma. I think I just only realised recently myself the gender divide that occurs when my better half told me she can’t train at night because of how unsafe she feels at Morningside Station. For me, this is something I wouldn’t even consider. Just building best practice cycleways and making our city well lit at night is not even a hard goal to attain, we should really be better at it

  7. I expect that I’m going to come under fire here, probably be accused of not “getting it” or not having any relevant background, however here I go…

    You made basically two points, that we have a serious culture issue and that we don’t have a livability focused design. The second point is very difficult to argue against and I’m going to agree in general with that point.

    Let me address your first point. NZ Inc. has a serious issue of cultural indoctrination that it’s OK to ogle women, that it’s OK to harass those who are (probably) less able to defend themselves, that it’s OK to discriminate against those who are “other”. We also have a shameful history of sexual abuse. I personally know three woman and two men who were sexually abused (some as children). This is unspeakably terrible that this is happening in our country, in our lifetime.

    You highlighted that as a women, males are more likely to harass you than perhaps myself (6ft tall, well built and sometimes rather intimidating looking). This is a matter of fact. However, that’s not an issue of a city not being built for women, per se – It’s an issue of a city not being built for the safety and comfort of all. If I were 5ft5 and skinny, I’d feel uncomfortable too, regardless of if I was gay or straight, cisgender or transgendered.

    Being a women is purely incidental to the issue, as anything that can be done from a built or cultural environment viewpoint benefits all. Unfortunately, even if we spent billions of dollars on the built environment, we’d still have a huge amount of work to do on our culture – Which is something that we all have a part in fixing, with our leading by example in living life the way that we want others to live it. Living with compassion and understanding, treating others with respect, even if we don’t understand or agree with their viewpoint.

    It should be clear from the above that I think that we need to improve both our built and cultural environments. The recent TV ad “if it’s not gay, it’s not gay” is brilliant and we definitely need more “it’s not ok” type ads to change the attitudes of large swathes of our society. I would however say that from my own experience, your picture seems very heterosexual, cisgender, “only men work” oriented. I also understand that may well have been intentional, a slap to get mens attention. I used the phrase “from my own experience” because since I moved to Auckland, each job I’ve had has had a very good male/female split with a very good culture of pay equality (was quite funny with a white male UK expat discovered he was earning $10k less than a Fiji Indian female colleague in the same role). I also understand that my experience is not representative of the majority of employers.

    It’s disappointing that you said “I haven’t blogged before because I’ve never felt like Greater Auckland was a particularly safe or inclusive place for me. Especially due to the comments section”. Could you please expand on that – Is it because you feel uncomfortable with the “impassioned” responses that sometimes appear, or some other reason? If it’s due to the lack of obviously female handles, my advice would be to find the courage to leave a comment anyway. Speak from the heart and don’t take the words of the faceless and anonymous to heart. FWIW, I’m sure that I’m not the only one who sometimes sees the comments here, becomes frustrated and thinks to themselves “why bother”… But it’s OK to think like that sometimes.

    1. Jon you’re making an assumption that the reason you don’t feel threatened is because you are tall and well built, rather than because you are male. I am a short guy, not in particularly good shape, and not at all intimidating looking, and I also feel completely safe in most situations in Auckland. Emma is saying that women have a fundamentally different experience in terms of threats, harassment, unwanted attention etc, and that seems totally believable to me. Being a woman is certainly not incidental.

      1. I never said that I didn’t feel threatened, only that I can look intimidating. I do indeed at times feel threatened, sometimes when my partner doesn’t and she’s spent a lot of time living and working overseas. The fact that I grew up walking through dangerous neighborhoods means that I appear to be more aware of potential threats than my partner. That you feel safe doesn’t mean that the situations _were_ safe, only that you don’t recall them being unsafe.

        I also never disagreed that women have a different experience in terms of threats, etc to white heterosexual males. I did however point out that many people outside of those two camps also have a lot of unwanted attention.

        1. Males are always going to feel intimidating to females – we are, after all, just another species of primates whose society evolved with large, more muscular males who seek dominance over other males, in order to establish mating rights with females. We’re so similar to chimps in this aspect that it is scary. There is, after all, only a few tens of thousands of years of slowly conditioning ourselves away from that. The human species is trying, but the veneer of civilisation is very thin in places (Trump is a classic case: loud, hooting, beating chest, dominating women etc). That barrier breaks down pretty quickly. It affects the way people are in their car and react in person. It affects people, especially women, in their use of public space and their feelings of comfort in the city.

          Possibly not a welcome comment, but a true one none the less.

        2. I agree!

          For the average female throughout most of the world, yes males are going to be intimidating. But it doesn’t need to be that way.

        3. Ever looked into dimorphism? Different primates have different levels of male domination over females – and, surprise surprise, it depends on the relative sizes of the sexes. Which is why the media’s portrayal of men as bigger and musclier than the real average, and of women as skinnier than the real average, is rather sinister.

    2. Jon K, I do think you have missed the point. Being a woman is not “purely incidental to the issue”. Yes, better design does benefit us all, but there is a multitude of research that men and women experience cities differently on the basis of safety and visibility. Women are widely considered the ‘indicator species’ when it comes to feeling safe riding a bike down the street or waiting at a train station – men are statistically less risk-averse than women. Therefore if design decisions are being made (as they historically have been in Auckland) by men, it is going to reflect in the built environment.

      To your point that we need to change our culture to be more compassionate and understanding –
      well, this is rather beside the point, as we are talking about urban design and there are some practical elements which are actually very easy to implement – increasing lighting, design decisions being made on the basis of visibility (rather than cost, or shortcuts), increasing frequency of PT services to reduce wait times and lingering.

      You comment that it’s disappointing that Emma has not felt welcome in the comments section of GA. Is it any wonder, given that your own response to her article was as a ‘slap to get mens attention’ rather than accepting it for the honest piece that it is, reflecting her own experience of our city, because it does not reflect your own experience?

      1. To be fair, the assertion that men are statistically less risk-averse than women suggests that all men fit into one simple profile. This is simply not true. Yes women and heterosexual cisgendered men experience a city differently, but what about those who are outside of those two groups? What about the transgendered female walking along the road, or a slightly camp gay cisgendered male (yes I _do_ know that not all gays are camp. I grew up with gay family friends, but a non-camp gay male looks like any other male)?

        I think that I should have spent more time on the built/cultural environment aspect. Even if we have reduced wait times, lots of lighting, protected cycleways, surveillance cameras every 10 meters and police officers on every single block… We’d still have the issues of people making unwanted comments, ogling or otherwise acting improperly. People act in a certain way because it’s how they’ve been brought up. This is what needs to _also_ change. You can’t resolve the comfort and safety issues by only fixing half the problem.

        Your last paragraph – I’m curious why you took one portion of a sentence, without considering the whole paragraph and context. I never said or even hinted that Emma’s article was a slap to get mens attention, hence my encouragement for her to participate more in my last paragraph – I made a comment directed at the included diagram – “your picture seems very heterosexual, cisgender”. It wasn’t meant as a negative, but as an emotionless statement borne of my own experiences. With regard to the slap portion, I was alluding to the fact that people tend to consider what’s normal in their local sphere as normal everywhere. To get people to realise that this isn’t necessarily the case you need to provide an ontological shock. The technique used (reversal) is as old as the hills. That’s not a comment on it’s effectiveness, or validity. In short, I was acknowledging that the diagram may have been an attempt at providing an ontological shock, whilst also pointing out that the world isn’t as binary as the diagram suggests. That’s also not to say that the diagram is of no value, or that it’s wrong, just that I’d like to see more encompassing talk. For as long as I can remember, we’ve had gay family friends and to me they’ve just been normal people, but I also have gay friends and for several years lived with a gay couple. I saw a lot of cases of exclusion and under-representation for them. The trans community is in great need of support too, as are religious and ethnic minorities (my partner is an ethnic minority). It is my opinion that we need to consider everyone, or we risk excluding vulnerable parties.

        With regard to Emma and my own experiences differing – Per my reply to Nick, not so much. As intimidating as I look, I still feel uncomfortable at times in our city.

    3. Jon, seriously, if someone in a permanently different situation to you says; ‘life is like this, this is my reality’ why on earth do you argue? What you are saying is ‘no, you are wrong about your own experience’. Do you not understand how this response exactly proves Emma’s case?

      Women and others constantly report that their experience is different from yours and mine, and mostly much more difficult with barriers and threats that we have the luxury of not even having to be aware of. We ought to listen to the experiences of others in the forming of our city, not argue with them about their realities. Everyone is the perfect expect on their own experience.

      After all the prize we all could gain is a richer more interesting place built differently, for everyone.

      1. Patrick, sometimes you and I appear to be reading different versions of my comments. This appears to be one of those times.

        I’m not sure where to even start… I never argued the nature of perceived reality or experience. Please re-read my comment and my replies. If you do wish to discuss this further please do so with some precision, as Katy and Guy M have done.

        1. I think its you that needs to re-read your post. It has come off, in every single one above, as someone trying to dismiss the others experience.

          And its not the first time you have been told that. Maybe something to consider?

        2. Indeed it may well be something to consider. It’s certainly not what I was intending to be my message.

          I’m not used to people interpreting my words differently than intended. Then again, I’m used to writing for a specific audience 🙂

  8. As a male I happen to have a wife and a mother whoom I love and care about very much in my city. It irritates/worries me that they dont feel as safe as I do late at night so improving their safety by better design is also a massive win for me.

  9. Great article Emma.

    As able-bodied men it can be easy for me to slip into the mindset that ‘a city that is better for my access, is better for all’. While this may be technically true, a city should be designed for those with the greatest need, with the spillover going to those who are in less need, not the other way around.

  10. Thank you Emma. I couldn’t agree more that cities need to be redesigned with women’s needs in mind and that that will benefit everyone. Articles like this not only start an important conversation amongst everyone interested in urban design and transport, but I also hope that it encourages more women to find their voices in the first place. It has for me. I read this blog often, but I very rarely comment and I’ve realised that’s for two reasons. The first is that I’m actually based in Wellington (although I have lived in Auckland, know it well, love visiting, love using the trains, love checking out the new cycle infrastructure and want Auckland to thrive for many reasons!). But the second reason is that, with the notable exception of Heidi, most voices are male and women’s voices are rare. I suspect other commenters will say that shouldn’t matter and I should feel free to comment anyway. You’re right. I should. From now on hopefully I will. But it has been a barrier for me to overcome that I suspect most readers of your blog would not even be aware of. Becoming aware of those barriers is the first step to getting rid of them.

    Thanks again Emma. Hopefully more women will be encouraged to participate in conversations like this from now on. I’m off to check out your blog now too.

    1. Comments and forums and Reddit subs (not a real forum) tend to be male-majority regardless of how the normal naming schemes work (compare, for instance, what I go by and your use, presumably, of your first name and initial). I mention this in light of your remark about male voices, while I agree that GA follows the normal pattern, whatever happened to “on the internet nobody knows you’re a dog”? Have we all become indoctrinated to the “welcome to the internet where the men are men, the women are men and the children are FBI agents” meme instead? (I think fan site forums are a bit different, resembling fanfic writing gender ratios more but I don’t recall reading this anywhere.)

      To be honest, I’m rather of the school of thought that wonders at the point of internet without the comments section. Not necessarily in the sense of posting in it, but simply reading it. I’m not sure if you’ve been reading GA’s or not but most posts here have interesting comments attached. The exception are airport rail ones. Those are trite and ill-researched. (I suspect the immigration post that Daphne made followed a similar pattern but honestly I don’t recall it, and mention it now simply because I saw it referred to.)

      Er, um, welcome.

  11. Excellent piece Emma. As a father of a two year old I have become a lot more aware of how poorly designed Auckland is for mobility when you are a bit slower and have wheels. At least being able bodied I can maneuver the buggy around things if I need to, I can only imagine how intimidating it must be to people in mobility scooters and wheelchairs.

    Also your point about stand alone houses is very pertinent. My wife too a year off work with our daughter and had a good network of friends with babies but still often felt isolated, it was much worse for a couple of mothers we know who are a bit more shy and didn’t have the same networks. I think medium density with shared backyards works the best for stay at home parents as it is much easier to build connections with other parents.

    One comment I would make is that I think both men and women bought into the suburban dream as it also brought us big backyards for the kids to play run around in amongst other things. However, I suspect women have become aware of the downsides of this approach a lot quicker.

    1. Sprawl isolating parents at home with children is affecting men now too. (Just as it always affected retirees.) Interestingly, it’s possibly worse than in the classic valium-solved 50’s. At least then, there were plenty of mums with children around. Now parents at home can feel like they are the only ones at home in the street. With baby number one, I did what everyone else did: I drove to meet-up with others. By baby number two, 6 years later, I’d ditched the car and was lowering my carbon footprint. It was lonely – I’m as stroppy as they come, heavily involved in the community, and know the names of everyone in my street; but mixed-use development would have provided more options for social contact and interest. I would hate to think how it affects the shy ones. And of course part-time work partly solves this, but only for the parents – children deserve a mixed-use environment too.

  12. The comment that “cities need to be redesigned with women’s needs in mind” got me thinking. Slightly off topic, or perhaps not, but one of the cities I felt most safe walking in, was in Morocco – in Fez. Fascinating place in that the old city has something like 3400 “streets” (often alleys) and none of them with any name as far as I could see. The key thing of course was the absence of cars (perhaps the occasional delivery donkey). But something about the city made me feel safe, despite a number of factors that would normally have set off warning bells: Walled housing with anonymous doors / grilles into houses. No street signs – no idea where you were. Only males on the street (presumably women lived there too, but no sign). Didn’t speak the language. Don’t understand the culture (i.e. I’m not Muslim). Immense, obvious poverty in places. Local garb in winter (traditional Berber / Moroccan garb) is a sort of djellaba with a hood. But what a fantastic city! Girlfriend with me also felt the same (although we didn’t test it by sending her out on her own).

    But everything on that list you might be forgiven for thinking that these were real no-noes for city design, and yet it all seemed good. Was I just being naive? Perhaps. Could I have been mugged (despite being twice the size of the locals, I presumably still stood out like a sore thumb as a foreigner)? Maybe. But somehow, for some reason, I felt incredibly safe.

    I put it down to two things – lack of cars (i.e. safe for walking) and lots of people (its a city for humans, not for vehicles. people who have been brought up in an attitude of how to behave in a crowded city full of people. Generally, I’ve found Muslim communities – and Christian communities – to be very respectful to me as an outsider – and yet at times in Wellington, even as a large hairy male, I still feel threatened at times predominantly by two factors that often go together: testosterone and alcohol. I’ll leave it there, but I’m guessing that most of you would know what I mean.

  13. While I agree that Auckland has been designed by men (and this needs to change), I don’t really agree it has been designed for men. I would say Auckland has been designed for families – cars, parks, back yards – are all things that a lot of families want. Of course a lot of the things you mention would make it better for families (and everyone really).

      1. …and probably, way back, the American suburban model wouldn’t have attracted such design importance in NZ if:
        – we’d had an appreciation of single-parent families as a valid household unit deserving of urban planning as much as any household unit;
        – we’d realised that the American model applied in America benefited American corporations but that NZ should look at a model that benefited NZers.

        If planning process in the 1950’s had sought to include input from diverse groups, I don’t think we would have adopted the American suburban model so strongly. At the time, plenty of women probably liked the suburban model. But others had lost their jobs when the men came back from the war, or had lost their men in the war and didn’t want a whole standalone house to maintain. Women were stroppy then too. Even in the values of the time, a more inclusive planning process would have created a different legacy city today.

    1. An alternative viewpoint – or perhaps an additional one – is that the city has effectively been designed by capitalist practices (some of you will groan at that, but hear me out). Think about two members of our society: one is a parent with two young children, one in a pram and one recently walking; the other is a CEO of a company – let’s say Fonterra as an example. One of these people is routinely expected to walk or take the bus, the other gets picked up in a chauffeur driven limo. I’m not saying what sex either is, but it is fairly obvious what often happens. Yet who is the person who is more capable of walking and who would benefit most from being driven?

      We have a society that undervalues the position of those who are at the caring-for-children stage of their lives, and perhaps rewards with excess those who really don’t need to be rewarded any more.

    2. Auckland has been *very poorly* designed for families. The city design takes all of the things that familoies want/need and puts them in the city without any consideration of how they relate to each other spatially. It’s something I notice in show homes too. Heaps of cool feature thrown in a building that overall doesn’t work at all.

  14. Great post Emma. My cycling and safe streets advocacy is not really for myself but for my wife and 10 year old son. My wife sometimes rides her bike to our local town centre (about 1.2km) but has felt less inclined to do so becasue she doesn’t like riding in 50 km/h traffic or getting told off for riding on the footpath. So she drives. My son rides on the road locally, within the development we live in but, once out of there, he opts for the footpath.

    Related, my mum uses transit to get around Auckland as she no longer has a car. She feels the Albany bus station doesn’t feel friendly outside of peak times.

    Summary: Great initiative and I’d love to see more work from council and AT on this. Well done.

  15. Wow, there hasn’t been nearly as much concern trolling as I expected, and no outright harassing comments about “PC”, “identity politics” or use of the words “female”. But tangentially, Emma is absolutely right to fear the comments boxes here. She probably read the 166 increasingly unhinged comments on my immigration post from July. The amount of boisterous and ponderous “mansplaining” is something I’ve commented on myself in the past.

    1. This post is a well thought out piece that clearly explains issues in a way where you would really have to dig deep to find concern to troll about. The post in July was basically a politicised view that bordered on a rant.

      I think the comments on the two posts have been pretty reflective of the content and have reaffirmed my view that GA comments are more well thought out (not perfect by any stretch) than any other forum I have come across.

    2. If you “fear” an online comment box, you are probably a snowflake.

      Public discourse requires the exchange of opinions, not just passive uncritical acceptance based on what appropriate minority/oppressed boxes you tick.

      1. Don’t be a dick Brutus.

        The point is that quality discussions require a variety of viewpoints and to ensure we get that variety, we need a wide variety of people to feel comfortable participating.

  16. I read the whole article and can totally appreciate your experiences because they are true and valid for you. I haven’t experienced what you have and I probably never will. I can also understand why comments like this one can put you off posting in such traditionally male-dominated forums, but since when should be debating ideas be comfortable? If you want comfortable, safe & inclusive then you can choose to stay in an echo chamber surrounded by like-minded individuals telling you what you want to hear and patting each other on the back. But echo chambers will never bring change. You have to actually go out and fight for your ideas against competing ideas. And sometimes it isn’t pretty. If you don’t, then the angry white men will win by default.

    I totally support and agree that we should be designing cities to be safer, more accessible and liveable for everyone. I always welcome diversity of ideas, especially when they challenge my own because this is where male engineers/planners really fail badly. But I totally reject the idea that somehow adding diversity of gender,race,religion, whatever, somehow inherently creates a better outcome. Intuitively it sounds true, but I have yet to see conclusive data on that. Diversity of ideas is where you get meaningful improvements. Continually challenging the status quo is what brings change. Everyone thinking the same is how we got where we are.

    Trying to get more gay, asian female engineers will not automatically improve the situation because there is no guarantee of diversity of thought or ideas. But really listening to and understanding and discussing the ideas of people who happen to be gay or asian or female or whatever, probably will improve the situation.

    You lost me with the title because you immediately create an us/them situation. I can’t help I am male, but somehow I am automatically at fault anyway. I see this all the time and I see it here. All I hear is “You suck at your job and women can do it better because men belong at the bottom of the heap.”

    I know totally that wasn’t your intent, but that’s what I read based on my experiences. Funnily enough if the article were titled “Male-dominated sector ignorant of majority of customers needs.” I would have been ok with that because it’s the truth.

    1. ” But I totally reject the idea that somehow adding diversity of gender,race,religion, whatever, somehow inherently creates a better outcome. ”

      That boggles the mind. Why do you need “conclusive data” on it – it is incredibly obvious. Do we really need to debate whether people with experience of something generally have more insight into that thing than people without experience? Or that diversity of experience is required to create diversity of ideas?

      If you interpret this article about being us/them, and believe that it says you are at fault for being a man, then frankly you need to man up.

      1. Man up, lol. That’s hilarious. I’m not going to bother mansplaining that.

        It may seem obvious Nick, but like I said, it is intuitive(based on emotion, experience, present situation), but intuition can be very biased and entirely wrong. Apparently test scores are a better prediction of future job performance than personal interviews, but still we choose to do personal interviews because we intuitively believe we are a better judge of people than some impersonal test.

        None of those diversity factors guarantee diversity of ideas. You can still get a diverse crowd that comes up with the exact same ideas/answers as a well informed crowd of similar people. If you hire a bunch of diverse engineers who all went through the same engineering school, they will probably not have very much diversity of thought compared with a group of people from various educational backgrounds. I have seen plenty of research suggesting diversity brings innovation, but we can only show correlation, not causation. There are various other factors at play. As long as you can facilitate diversity of thought you will find benefits.

        I reject the idea that because I belong to a ethnic minority that regularly suffers racial prejudice and economic discrimination somehow my opinion is more important than that of a single white male or somehow invalidates their own.

        Like I said, I don’t disagree with the outcomes the OP is wanting to achieve. Who doesn’t want a safer, more liveable city? I just didn’t really like the way the message was framed.

        1. What a load of rubbish Karl. Obviously a wider variety of perspectives will result in decisions that better reflect the needs of the whole population.

          As many guys have said in this comments thread, transport and urban issues that are a huge deal for women just didn’t occur to them.

          I wouldn’t think twice about walking to or from a bus stop in the dark, which makes me a terrible judge of whether other people think similarly or not.

          Why do you have a problem coming at this from a gender perspective? Why bother pushing back and belittling the opinions of people that are different to yours?

        2. Trev, where did I belittle the OP’s opinion? Please point it out. They are entitled to it and I agreed with intended outcomes. I just didn’t like their delivery.

          If you prefer a echo-chamber where everyone agrees and no-one pushes back, well then, you end up with the exact same problem of mindless group think accepting opinions as reality and no critical thought.

        3. Splitting hairs over how an argument is delivered, not the actual content of the argument, reflects badly on only one person and it is not the author of the article.

          It is honestly so pointless given the author has clearly acknowledged that many more people than just women would benefit from this approach.

        4. Jezza, splitting hairs is your opinion. I think there is a fundamental difference in opinion that makes a huge difference to the validity of the argument. I agree on the end goal, I accept the OP’s experiences as truth, but I disagree on the starting assumptions that frame the entire article. Reflecting badly on me is also just an opinion. I don’t care much what people think of me as long as I stick to my principles. I am sticking to my principles of challenging assumptions and opinions that are being passed of as facts. Passing off correlation as causation etc.

          You are basically saying it is pointless to question someones opinion so you are implying that we should just accept opinions as fact.

          The OP approached this problem from the opinion that more women in engineering(or whatever field) would make things better for everyone and implies that this is accepted fact. It isn’t so crystal clear. I’m basically saying having more women engineers MAY make zero difference in outcome if the engineers all think the same way anyway.

  17. Thanks for your piece, Emma! The point about street lighting is particularly fresh to me. Last night as I walked home with two other women from Late at the Museum, from the Domain into the CBD, we noted two things: 1. The shocking lack of convenient footpaths – for Auckland Central’s largest park, it is strangely car-centric; 2. The extremely poor lighting. We found ourselves walking in the street because they were better lit than the out of the way footpaths, and risking being hit by cars. While we didn’t face any threats of harassment, I’m not sure I would have walked that way by myself – it didn’t feel safe. It is strange to say having lived in places seemingly much less “safe” than Auckland, but the lack of attention to pedestrians never ceases to amaze me in this so-called livable city. Even when I’m biking, I also feel less safe in dark spaces – e.g. the last leg of the Grafton Gully where the existing lights never seem to all be lit, and the Northwest as you mentioned – while even though the major stretch of the Gully is quite remote, it is well lit, and somehow feels safer (perhaps also because I tend to be flying down the hill late at night — just try to catch me!)

    1. Agree, I’ve pushed my daughters push-chair through the Domain a couple of times and the roads are really the only option, the lack of paths is baffling for a domain. I guess it would be out of place in Auckland if it were pedestrian friendly!

      1. You’re right Jezza – the Auckland Domain is shockingly bad for pedestrians, despite it really being an almost entirely pedestrian domain. But, as you note, the roads are continuous and the footpaths aren’t. As far as I understand, there are some moves afoot to make the pedestrian experience better – to make the Domain less of a vehicle through route – amidst howls of anguish from car drivers – but has there yet been any talk about making better footpaths?

        1. Agree with you all. The Domain should be a jewel of pedestrian-friendliness and it’s just plain dangerous. With design for active modes and diversity forefront in everyone’s mind, why does the Council still allow the private car in the Domain at all? The whole place should be converted to separated cycle paths and walking paths.

    2. Pleased to see there is still attention on the NW cycleway. Some years ago, I tried to get lighting improvements to the bit that goes along the motorway in Kingsland/Eden Terrace. I walked through there regularly and noticed that the lighting that had gone in when the motorway was installed no longer shone on the walkway because the trees had grown up. There was very little other lighting and it was very dark at night. I was on the Eden Albert Community Board at the time, and put in a request for lighting improvements. It disappeared into an arguement between Auckland City and NZTA over whose responsibility it was. Each thought the other should do it. I think it took the Supercity and the cycling improvements to get any improvement at all.

  18. Well said. And everything you describe would make Auckland more fun for this boy* on a bike as well. Keep pushing for this and know that despite any pushback you get there are plenty of us who want what you want.

    *Actually an old white guy but when I’m on my bike I feel like a boy again.

  19. I have no idea whether gender-specific design has anything to do with it or not, but in my experience I find certain towns and cities in continental Europe far more conducive to feelings of well-being and harmony between people-and-environment as well as between people themselves, than say, many towns and cities in the English-speaking world.
    And a significant element of this, to me, has to be the steps these places have taken to roll back auto-centricity and boost non-car alternatives – something most Anglophone cities seriously lag behind with, and seem frankly fearful of.

    Prioritisation of traffic in cities and suburbs degrades them from what they could be, and sets in train a raft of undesirable and unnecessary long-term outcomes that few in them pause to question. So ubiquitous and insidious has the invasion of traffic been that the loss-of-amenity has unthinkingly been accepted and only the very old can now remember things being markedly different. And part of that degradation has been a general disconnection between people with all that this implies for security, suspicion and feelings of unease.

    But those towns and cities of continental Europe tell a different story. The alternative scenarios they present, to me at least, are of an unhurried vitality and a flourishing of human qualities including gender-inclusiveness. I accept that my experience is superficial and others might have a different take. But I see something that we could and should emulate, something that is not only achievable but also viable and vital in the long run, in spite of what our home-grown nay-sayers might have us believe.

    Their much-more comprehensive public transport, their stronger emphasis on quality-of-place (particularly public-space and walkability), their enthusiasm for trams, trolleybuses and electrified rail, and above all, their determination to keep traffic from dominating – all point to what could be here also. That we don’t have to accept traffic-caused degradation and lack-of-alternatives as inevitable.

    I don’t know whether a stronger female input has brought this about, or even whether women in those places necessarily feel more comfortable than here, but my gut feel is that the Continentals are doing something right that we are not, or at least we much-less-so.

  20. Not sure why gender is brought into it, I have the exact same problems in Auckland and i’m a dude. I’ve been yelled at, insulted, whistled at, spat at and attempted to be ran over as a pedestrian on multiple occasions.

    Some of the nasty people to blame are often female, children or elderly too.

    Lets just make things better for everyone rather than ruling out certain people.

    1. I have never been catcalled or whistled at, I’d seriously questions someone’s eyesight if they did! Also I can’t think of the last time I was insulted or yelled at in public, although it might have happened at some stage.

      Anyone that thinks women are not a specific target for these things, especially the catcalling and whistling is out of touch.

      1. No argument from me, women are definitely the recipients of large portion of this behavior. But we can’t say its exclusive to any particular category, otherwise everyone else falls through the cracks.

        1. Any design that makes people feel safer, get around with children easier, or generally get around easier inherently benefits everyone in these circumstances irrespective of gender, the post points this out.

        2. No one is saying that it is exclusive. They are saying that it falls far more heavily on some groups.

    2. Yes…it’s all very well to say men don’t feel threatened so can pipe down. I might be stronger than the average woman but that’s irrelevant if i’m:

      a) outnumbered
      b) simply don’t feel like getting into a verbal or physical altercation

      I’ve been called a poofter and challenged to a fight on separate occasions in broad daylight on a weekday in Auckland CBD. No doubt it’s worse for a woman as those same ferals are probably more likely to trigger their antisocial behaviour on them too, but it’s a flipside of the same coin. Isolating it into another theatre of the gender wars, is counterproductive.

    3. The difference IS the recipient. As a male being yelled out and harassed isn’t fun. But women face the real prospect of assault.
      The consequence is that for women the emotional impact is far greater than for men.
      You can argue that shouldn’t be true but the fact is that it is, listen to any woman.
      Designing a city should be around actual lived experience of the people in it not around what you think that experience should be if society was fair.

      1. Except young men are vastly more likely to be assaulted and killed anywhere. Just because someone feels safe, they may be in grave danger and just because someone feels in grave peril, they may be perfectly safe. Perception of safety and real safety are two very different things. Putting more lighting up everywhere doesn’t actually make people safer. This is supported by various studies.

        If we put more lighting up to improve women’s perception of safety without improving their actual safety, then we are actually making things worse for women and everyone else.

        1. I haven’t read those studies. Can you provide a link? We need to put our money into design that has the best effect, so it’s important we know what the research says.

        2. Just ask Google. 😀 These studies have been going on for ages and its interesting.

          As a traffic engineer I know that increased lighting can reduce car crashes, but only to a certain level of illumination beyond which the benefit is minimal. NZTA has done some of this research as well as plenty over seas.

          But the research into crime rates based on levels of illumination is not as wide spread but it is still being done. Studies date back decades with mixed results and I don’t know if the data from the older studies were that good. It seems obvious to people that more lighting makes people safer and scares away criminals, but the evidence is mixed. It is also hard to exclude unrelated factors like more/less police, increased CCTV coverage, other social programs etc.

          This was a surprising study:

          This article has some great links to conflicting studies:

          The consensus seems to be that increased lighting indisputably makes people feel safe, but they may not be any safer than before. I think the answer is more nuanced than “more light=safer” because it seems to be different for different communities. There is also not a lot of good data about the level of lighting to maximise benefits.

          LA’s Summer Night Lights program is really interesting to look into. Officials claim huge reductions in crime, but some research into it suggests it has made no difference to crime rates because the stats are wrong.

          On the flip side, light pollution is just getting worse. People don’t even know what stars look like anymore. Moth populations are being wiped out by LED lighting. Birds are getting confused on whether it is day or night. Some sea birds diving into roads at night thinking it’s water(happens more in the south island apparently).

          I generally support working towards intelligent lighting that detects people walking along and lights up as they walk past then dim to a low level when they are gone. It generally reduces the impact of many of these issues and can save some money on the long run.

        3. Thanks. All good thoughts. I will read those studies. And I’d just add that reducing the perception of danger is a goal in itself. As I commented below, feeling fear limits behaviour. It is one thing that controls what people can do – women have of course noted this, and I’m particularly interested in how parents’ fear can limit what they let their children do. Parents shouldn’t have to override natural instincts. If the statistics suggest something is safe, it should also feel safe.

  21. While the article is of importance I always find words such as females or women so generalising. Like men, women is far from a homogeneous group.

    Also riding a bike on the pavement, Id scream at you too, whether male or female. Id probably stand right in front of you and explain that pavements are not suitable for bike-riding since they are designed for pedestrians and you thus risk causing harm to those not expecting a bike. Lets remember, pavements sees plenty of young children who are quite incapable of understanding speed and the danger a bike poses. In short, should you wish to use a bicycle on the pavement, step of it and walk.

    Id perhaps urge caution to use Svenska Bostäder and Husby as an example.
    Some contextual descriptions of Husby might be needed. Husby is a suburb of Stockholm, Svenska bostäder is the city of Stockholms property arm. Husby is one of Swedens most deprived location and houses mostly recently arrived refugees from Somalia and the middle east. Its an area where the majority of people who reside are living on government benefits and where the ability to use the Swedish language is extremely low. In the latest survey, only 4 out of approximately 900 secondary school students spoke fluent Swedish, the rest needing support, aka Swedish for migrants.

    Its definitely not a safe area. But for very different reasons than infrastructure and architecture. The local youth is heavily influenced by the more fundamental Islamic preachers which have led to serious difficulties for women to walk outside without a male chaperon, walk outside not wearing scarf and be seen participating in “haram” things such as sports or work. Its gone so far that the local youths have formed their own moral police that patrol the area (the area is 95% Muslim) ensuring that the locals follow what they deem to be the correct way for Muslims to live.
    The clash that exists between the values of Sweden and the values of the youth dominating the suburb of Husby are enormous.

    BBC sent a female reporter that made an attempt at visiting and describing the suburb. It didn’t go down well. She ended up getting abused, threatened and eventually had to leave due to her not being covered which the local youth demanded. In the neighboring suburb an American TV crew got stoned and had to flee. At night, ambulances and fire engines only enter the neighborhoods with police protection.

    Lets put it this way, Husby and designing for females is probably something that is nice to read about, but a visit would open the eyes to a very different reality where safety and freedom of choice for females is restricted due to assumed male moral superiority enforced by local ‘moral’ patrols.

    1. Laws about not riding on the footpath were established when cars hadn’t taken over the roads to the degree they have today. It is a different world today, and the law around riding on footpaths will change. Meanwhile, for most of the city, there is nowhere left to ride. How is it that people have some right to drive an energy-wasting carbon-emitting life-threatening metal box around when others don’t have the right to get exercise and travel in a sustainable way?

      In D and D we’d call the people riding their bikes on the footpath “chaotic good” because they disregard the laws to do what their conscience tells them. And we’d call the people screaming at the cyclists “lawful evil” because they are great respecters of laws and strict order but have no regard for how those laws harm others.

    2. I’d probably run you over. On a bike I can quite clearly see if kids are coming and either make room or jump back on the road. The only reason bikes aren’t allowed on the footpath is to allow cars to reverse out their driveways without looking.

  22. Nice to see this post. I have said on a number of comments over the years that making public transport more child friendly (or commute with child friendly) (and that means more accessible in many respects, also considering a PT network which considers a having to drop children off/multiple stop type journey etc) would mean greater uptake for parents……transportation is a huge barrier and has been a long source of exhaustion of mine in my “Mummy years”. Having someone design with those needs in mind (or considered properly when redesigning things) would make a huge difference – its often little things and details that make a big difference.

  23. Perception of safety is not the same as actual risk. Sure the city can be made significantly better in a number of ways, but at this point I don’t think that your perception of danger reflects the actual level of danger you experience. Men are at greater risk than women are when they walk the street. Ironically by mentioning your feelings of danger on the street by discouraging people from walking/cycling would actually make the city a little more dangerous for those that do.

    1. We need to design to make the city safe. We also need to design to make the city seem safe. It is OK to say “actually, this is much safer than you think.” It is not OK to say “actually, this is much safer than you think, so we’re not going to do anything to reduce the impression of danger”.

      Feeling fear limits what people do. Feeling safe is liberating.

  24. Great article. Having related family & children who have been using PT & sometime bike I’ve become much more acutely aware of the risks, dangers & fear some routes, places for transfers etc which wouldn’t really be an issue for me (but actually still scary – I’m of average build, white male). I used to suggest “why don’t you just transfer here and catch that bus instead?”, but would now have to think twice about that when it isn’t me doing the journey.

  25. I think Emma would love to see these comments, which read as primarily an outpouring of solidarity and understanding. No one disbenefits from turning the triangle on it’s head. By designing for those that have the most need, nothing gets taken away from any one else. The person who already felt safe and could access the space, still can. But with a lens that encompasses everyone, now people who might not have been able to use something (too dark, too scary, too much curb, to hilly, no where to sit) could be able to.

    Story 1: At the Newmarket train station, I’ve been double charged and am waiting in line at the help desk. The man in front of me is very visibly a senior citizen. He has a cane. He has a gold card in his hand. His legs are shaking from the strain of standing. He doesn’t want anyone to know. He REALLY wants to get to the front of the queue so he can at least lean on the customer service desk for some temporary relief. I REALLY don’t want him to collapse, he doesn’t need the embarrassment, and ideally I want to get to my eye exam.
    So I call to the warden on duty, and see if we can get a chair as the wait is a bit long. There are no chairs in the station. It turns out that there are no chairs to be procured either. So our soldier stands, shaking, and I am angry that there are no chairs. I am angry that looking around, with different eyes, this is not an easy place to be in for all people.
    This guy no longer has his license, he is taking his gold card to the station so that he can activate it. He’s been told that he can only do this at a station, and this is the closest one to his house, he wants to stay active and socially engaged as a citizen of the city. Trains are a great idea for this.
    But the design of the space clearly makes it difficult for him to access. What happens when the rail loop is complete and he gets off at Mercury station, but is faced with an insurmountable hill to walk up to K’Rd where the shops are? Easy enough for a fit person to get some exercise up. But we aren’t all fit people. And we don’t all want to walk up there the dark, even if we are.

    Story 2: The bollards and chicane gates on the new Waterview shared path. Try navigating through there with small kids on bikes, or on a cargo bike. The people it was designed for can’t even use it.

    So it made me think, when we are designing, are we designing people out of the city. After that experience, would my friend want to go to the station help desk if he needed to? Or would he just not take trains any more. And then would he lose access to the outside world. How many other similar instances are there?

    Emma brings up a much needed conversation piece, and with it, a safe space to have the conversation for those who might sometimes feel left out.

    (The train station man made it, just. And I lodged a recommendation with AT for provding a seat for people who need one).

    1. I feel you on that comment. I started to “see” the world through different eyes when my Mum lost her sight in her 40s, how many barriers there can be that others see as easy, and how she did get out less and less after that. Sadly she passed away in her 60s but the lessons I have learnt from her, and her legacy will stick with me a lifetime for very many reasons. My point is – even if this seems irrelevant to someone fit and healthy, its not, even beyond a caring for your fellows approach, you never know whats around the corner. And it benefits us all if diverse voices are heard in public design.

    2. +1 And it makes every bit of difference that you tried to get him a chair and that you put in a recommendation. Someone may have seen you ask for the chair and it may have just returned to them some trust in the goodness of people. These actions are infectious. Thanks, Jessica.

      As for the bollards and chicanes – man! I don’t like the story I heard of how it came to be, either. Seems to have been one man with a bee in his bonnet. (Bonnet? beard maybe? 🙂 )

    3. @ Jessica Rose
      “By designing for those that have the most need, nothing gets taken away from any one else.”

      The one reservation I have with this as a general statement is where it results in a design so expensive that it doesn’t get built and so no-one can benefit.

      Case in point: Kaiwharawhara Station footbridge in Wellington:
      The old footbridge (non-wheelchair accessible) was deemed unsafe and had to be removed. The cost of building a new one which of course had to be wheelchair-accessible was so huge that it was declared unaffordable in view of the limited patronage at that station. The station was therefore permanently closed.
      Had a cheaper, non-wheelchair-accessible bridge been provided the station may not have closed*. However as things stand, now no-one can use it. Disabled have gained nothing. Everyone else has lost out.

      * Note that this was the story as told to the public. Some of us suspect there may have been a covert agenda to get rid of this station anyway, and the old footbridge which we believe could have been acceptably repaired was used as the scapegoat.

      Perhaps the issue of designing for inclusiveness was not to blame in this instance. In a healthier PT-funding-environment this ‘Hobson’s-Choice’ of an unaffordable bridge or no bridge at all may well not have arisen. One only needs to consider the $millions being poured into the Sarawia Street bridge to benefit a mere handful of residents, to realise that money itself is not short. But then, one is a road and the other is PT. . ..

  26. Great article, and I’ve enjoyed reading the comments afterwards too. I wish I’d noticed this a little earlier, seeing as I’ve just spent the past two days teaching Akld Uni postgrad engineering students about cycle planning/design and it would have been good to reiterate the point (although we did discuss how focusing on the “interested but concerned” group of potential cyclists does tap into a large pool of women currently concerned about biking in traffic). Still, it was heartening that about half of the class were women, and many already working in the transport industry, so hopefully that means that future city environments won’t just be designed by/for the “male, pale, and stale” (I’m two of those and hopefully not the third yet!).

    A little plug for any women who are down in Christchurch for Asia-Pacific Cycle Congress (or some other excuse): on Thursday morning there is a “Women in Urbanism NZ – APCC Meetup”; more details at

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