This is a guest post from reader Daphne Lawless. An earlier version was first published in Fightback. It is a review of Feminist City by Leslie Kern (Verso, 2020). Images added by Greater Auckland.
I forget the source, but I remember a socialist writer saying something like “the middle class are the vanguard of living well under capitalism”. Due to having more education, more disposable income and more leisure time, professionals and the relatively well-off are often among the first to experiment with new ways of living – such as minimising the use of animal products, or making carbon-neutral and sustainable choices in housing and transport. Crucially, they also have the time and resources they need to advocate effectively for such positive social reforms.
This leads to a paradox whereby these reforms can then be stigmatised as “elitist” or “anti-working-class”, by those seeking to promote reactionary politics – even if they would benefit working people if they were adopted across society. Thus, in a recent council by-election in working-class Māngere-Ōtāhuhu, a right-wing candidate was able to describe Māngere’s new network of cycle lanes as “elitist and bordering on racism” (1), echoing a line promoted by Conservative-Left blogger Martyn Bradbury (2).
Attempts to promote alternatives to car dependency, such as the “Safer Streets” trial in Ōnehunga, or the campaign to open up the Auckland Harbour Bridge for cycling, are vulnerable to cynical commentators playing upon the fact that quite often the leading “faces” of such events are white professionals.
Working people who don’t have the time or confidence to participate in formal consultations, and who are understandably suspicious that reforms proposed by the already-privileged could make their lives harder and more expensive, will be vulnerable to such bad-faith messaging.
To be clear, there are already many strong brown and working-class advocates of carbon-neutral and active transport modes (3,4). But – while we should reject bad faith criticisms from the Right and the Conservative Left – the movement for sustainable urbanism, housing and transport does need an “intersectional” approach. This framework looks at how different social and political identities combine and interact, and can be useful for understanding how urban changes may be felt by very diverse groups.
An example is the new streetscape on Karangahape Road. The cyclelane is clearly safer for many people, including some people with mobility impairments.
For others, however, there are real issues with the accessibility of the footpath. The problem is systemic, stemming from Auckland Transport placing low value on accessibility and universal design. They need to follow their own design guidance more, fix its weaknesses, and enforce the rules around appropriate retailer use of the footpath. But critical to improving the situation is consulting and engaging with disability advocates throughout the design and planning process.
Solutions to urban issues such as intensified housing and removing some of the privileges of private automobiles, as long as they are mainly designed and advocated for by the already-privileged, will inevitably have “blind spots” and “gaps” which might paradoxically make things worse for some of the marginalised and vulnerable. In turn this will offer opponents of sustainability an easy line of attack, to disrupt the broad coalition necessary to make such changes stick.
This is a massive topic, but Leslie Kern’s Feminist City offers a convincing call for a better urbanism along one axis of intersectionality: gender. Kern, an academic geographer working in small-town Canada, is refreshingly upfront with her acknowledgements that gender is only one issue, and repeatedly reminds her readers to also listen to Black, indigenous, queer, trans and working-class voices on urban questions:
Asking “women’s questions” about the city means asking about so much more than gender. I have to ask how my desire for safety might lead to increased policing of communities of colour. I have to ask how my need for stroller access can work in solidarity with the needs of disabled people and seniors. I have to ask how my desire to “claim” urban space for women could perpetuate colonial practices and discourses that harm the efforts of Indigenous people to reclaim lands taken and colonized (p. 26)
Kern is conscious that urban reforms which make things easier for some women or some parents might paradoxically make things worse for others – for example, urban cafés which are comforting and safe “third spaces” for professional women often replace spaces used by working-class and marginalised groups (p. 106):
making cities seem safe for women also tends to make them less safe for other marginalized groups. Efforts to “clean up” downtown areas and “revitalize” residential and retail districts are typically accomplished through a combination of aesthetic measures (beautification projects) and the active removal of groups of people that have been marked as symbols of disorder, danger, crime, or disease… Bodies that do not conform due to age, illness, disability, racialization, class, sexuality, addiction, etc., are marked as “out of place” and targeted for displacement. (pp. 160, 168)
Key to Kern’s argument is the difference between what is and what could be in urbanism, for women:
the suburbs are anything but natural. Suburban development fulfilled very specific social and economic agendas…
the suburbs are not consciously trying to keep women in the kitchen and out of the workplace, but…
The isolation, size of the family home, need for multiple vehicles, and demands of child care can continue to push women either out of the workplace or into lower-paying, part-time jobs that mostly allow them to juggle the responsibilities of suburban life…
For families headed by women, “their very survival,” argues Wekerle, is dependent “on a wide network of social services frequently found only in central city areas” (pp. 38–40)
In principle, dense urban living should thus offer much more possibilities for not only women, but for other oppressed groups. Kern explores how lesbians and other queer people have built communities based around urban living which would have been impossible in any other environment (pp. 80–2).
On the other hand, actually-existing urban life is not much more friendly to women than the suburbs. Kern explains that since the 19th century, women have been considered to simply not belong in the urban environment – “streetwalkers” and “public women” were euphemisms for the despised class of sex workers (p. 12). Contemporary urban form continues to indicate that women (and parents of small children, in particular) are not welcome:
The city has been set up to support and facilitate the traditional gender roles of men and with men’s experiences as the “norm,” with little regard for how the city throws up roadblocks for women and ignores their day-to-day experience of city life….
“Why doesn’t my stroller fit on the streetcar [tram]?” “Why do I have to walk an extra half mile home because the shortcut is too dangerous?”…
The constant, low-grade threat of violence mixed with daily harassment shapes women’s urban lives in countless conscious and unconscious ways… the spectre of urban violence limits women’s choices, power, and economic opportunities… urban environments are structured to support patriarchal family forms, gender-segregated labour markets, and traditional gender roles. (pp. 15–18)
Kern is dismissive of the nostalgic view of small-town or suburban life “where everyone knows your name”. She is clear that the autonomy and anonymity of urban living offers space and freedom for women and traditionally marginalised communities, and centres the right to be left alone as the basis of urban life.
The extent to which violations of women’s personal space via touch, words, or other infringements are tolerated and even encouraged in the city is as good a measure as any for me of how far away we actually are from the sociable—and feminist—city of spontaneous encounters… It takes an enormous amount of mental energy to navigate the public and private spaces of the city alone as a woman. (pp. 91, 94)…
Although women often experience comments on our bodies and uninvited physical contact, pregnancy and motherhood elevate these intrusions to a new level. People read my protruding belly as if it said, “rub here please!” I was expected to cheerfully welcome all manner of unsolicited advice … [which] didn’t translate into much of an uptick in urban courtesy. (pp. 33–4)
On the other hand, says Kern, “I could function without a car. Compared to the suburbs, this kind of urban density offered a lot more ways to manage parenting, grad school, and domestic responsibilities” (p. 37). She also emphasises how media narratives which promote a climate of fear lead to women self-excluding from urban spaces, through sensationalized reporting on violent stranger crimes against women and a relative lack of reporting on intimate partner violence… In contrast, domestic violence, sexual assault by acquaintances, incest, child abuse, and other “private,” yet much more prevalent, crimes receive far less attention (pp. 144–5).
Making the issues of violence and harassment worse is the prevailing neoliberal logic of responsibilisation – the idea that victims of oppression are “responsible” for keeping themselves safe and healthy, diverting attention from the systems which cause oppression. This need to be “responsible” is a constant drain for women, taking a huge toll on their ability to participate.
Kern weaves her personal narrative together with humility in acknowledging that marginalised people in the city have never been granted “the right to be left alone”, as any street-based sex worker, homeless person or person struggling with addiction could tell you (p. 107). She mentions the availability of public toilets as a crucial factor which excludes, not only women, but trans people from urban life – not to mention people of colour who might have the cops called on them for asking to use a business’s facilities (pp. 108–11). Once again, we are faced with a gap between what urban life is, and what it could be – while today’s reality of urban life may be grim, it holds possibilities for freedom and fulfilment which don’t exist in suburbia.
Also resonant for me was Kern’s account of how, growing up in mega-cities such as Toronto and London, public transport gave her and her teenage friends the necessary freedom to explore not only their cities, but their own identities: She makes the excellent point that often-derided urban spaces such as shopping malls and streets are essential places of self-discovery for young people:
Girls must learn to make do with the limited spaces that they’re offered. In my suburban adolescence, that space was the mall… Girls paradoxically identify public spaces, such as city streets, as “private,” because these spaces allow them anonymity away from the prying gaze of parents, teachers, and other caregivers. The home was strangely more like a public space, since girls didn’t feel a sense of privacy or control over their bedrooms and possessions her (pp. 70–5)
Kerr points out that department stores and shopping malls originated as places where women could be out in public without male chaperoning or harassment (pp. 101–3). Kerr’s stories from her teenage years strike a particular chord with me. As a teenager growing up in Wellington, what is now known as the Kāpiti rail line was my lifeline out of the stultifying conformity of the outer suburban fringe (and parental surveillance) into what seemed to be an exciting, colourful and cosmopolitan urban environment.
Public transport (ideally) means freedom to younger people and others who don’t have access to cars.
But again, actually existing transit is specifically not designed for the actual lives of women:
Most urban public transportation systems are designed to accommodate the typical rush hour commute of a nine-to-five office worker… research shows that women’s commutes are often more complex, reflecting the layered and sometimes conflicting duties of paid and unpaid work… Recent research has found that transportation is yet another area where women pay a “pink tax” (paying more for similar services than men). Women are more likely to rely on public transportation than men, although they’re more poorly served by it. (pp. 41–2)
Every aspect of public transit reminded me that I wasn’t the ideal imagined user. Stairs, revolving doors, turnstiles, no space for strollers, broken elevators and escalators, rude comments, glares: all of these told me that the city wasn’t designed with parents and children in mind… I sheepishly realized that until I faced these barriers, I’d rarely considered the experiences of disabled people or seniors who are even more poorly accommodated (pp. 43–4)
Kern doesn’t try to offer any firm models for urbanist reform in her book, but returns over and over again to the theme that a sustainable urban future is only possible with the active participation and voices of women and other marginalised urban communities. She sees possibilities for the future not only in the survival strategies of low-income and marginalised groups, but in female friendship networks which she sees as increasingly displacing the nuclear family (p. 88). She is also crystal clear that top-down, technocratic planning by privileged experts won’t solve anything: “no amount of lighting is going abolish the patriarchy” (p. 155):
the faces of urban planning, politics, and architecture have to change. A wider range of lived experience needs to be represented among those who make the decisions that have enormous effects on people’s everyday lives (p. 170)
One caveat for readers in Aotearoa – Kern’s experience of urban form is predominantly that of North America, where working-class people and especially people of colour are concentrated in the inner cities. Contrast that with the urban form as we know it in Aotearoa, where – apart from students and homeless people – the population of the urban cores and inner suburbs are predominantly middle-class beneficiaries of gentrification, while working-class people, tangata whenua and migrant communities are concentrated in outer suburbs at the end of long motorways. It is for this reason that an urbanism which is suited to our local conditions must begin by understanding that suburban, car-dependent living is all that a generation of the marginalised in this country have known. A reversion to a densified, transit- and cycling-based sustainable urban model will need to include working-class suburban dwellers as protagonists. They can’t have their communities unilaterally rearranged by privileged planners, in the same way that their parents or grandparents had to adjust to being “ethnically cleansed” from the centre of our cities during the 1960s and 1970s (5). In short, we need a sustainable urbanism from below.
[Edited by admins for breaking comment policies]
Thanks for the really insightful post Daphne. One thing that I think gets missed in a lot of this discussion is how designing streets for people with disabilities, children, women, old people etc. actually means designing streets that work better for the vast majority of the population.
Furthermore, if a street works well for someone with a particularly strong access need, then it will work better for everyone. This often actually isn’t a game of trade-offs in the most part.
This is what ‘consultation and engagement’ should actually focus on, rather than putting up to a vote changes to the street environment that are intended to save people’s lives. The questions should always be “how should we do this so it works well for a wide variety of people?” rather than “should we do this?”
“designing streets for people with disabilities, children, women, old people etc. actually means designing streets that work better for the vast majority of the population.”
Yeah. What gets missed out is that “intersectionality” stuff actually benefits everybody, if done right. When we had kids we suddenly realised that accessibility for disabled people is also accessibility for prams, or indeed for anyone shifting a heavy or bulky load. Another issue that the disability community always notes is that being able-bodied is a temporary state of affairs at best.
Excellent article. Balanced and nuanced, unlike so much we read (including stuff from ‘the left’).
Thanks for the article, I really enjoyed it. Lots to think about.
Agree. I really enjoyed the article. I hope it’s widely read.
Interesting post thanks, Daphne. Part of this is about bringing the amenities and services that people need to more suburbs. As you mention, our situation is different to the US, so not only will we need to bring more services and amenities to the suburbs, the city centre is also pretty barren of some of the things residents need. It’s caught up on supermarkets but (a couple of years ago, anyway) it was lacking in pregnancy and childbirth services.
Part of it is about our deficient street environment. In the city centre, AT is dragging its feet on the CCMP and severely impacting the ability of residents to get to some things on foot or bike, like to the Placemakers on Cook St. In the suburbs, AT is “improving intersections” by widening them instead of putting them on diets as they should be doing.
Yes, our sprawl makes the problem slightly different but the solutions are probably similar. As you say, it’s about making sure that all the services are there at a usable human scale. In some ways AC/AT do get it, with the notion of town centres etc. They just haven’t done much to enforce good implementation.
Several people commented on their opposition to the Onehunga LTN,along the lines of “with the reduced traffic on the road/s inside the LTN, they felt less personal safety walking on those streets “. There was also some input from the community policeman,to watch out for increased house burglaries inside the LTN.
In proposing projects like LTN,s , l wonder how much thought goes into all aspects of safety, (might be safer from a traffic perspective,but if you felt personally at risk, could be counter productive), an unintended consequence maybe
That is quite interesting, common wisdom is that more people oriented streets are safer because of more eyes on the street. If you’re driving a car you have to focus on driving so it is hard to see what is going on around you. People walking or cycling past, or people just hanging out in the street will much more easily notice things.
And the robust evidence from the UK confirms that LTN’s reduce crime. Plenty of people felt much safer in the Onehunga LTN, and the policeman’s advice seems ill-judged.
The trial should’ve lasted longer to get good data on this.
Common sense would dictate that people outside of cars are going to be far more attentive, and far more willing to help, reducing crime, and increasing eyes on the street / passive surveillance.
I think where this doesn’t apply immediately is places that are extremely car dominated. Travel habits take a long time to change, so there honestly could have been a reduction in passive surveillance as people were displaced, rather than adapting their travel mode, and therefore providing an increase in crime. Although over such a small time and area, the noise in the data would be quite high. And again, these street changes are not an immediate payoff, more something that would take years to shake out.
Police officers, with the greatest of respect, say all kind of foolish things. Who remembers National MP Melissa Lee in 2008 saying, apparently, on the authority of a policeman, that the Southwestern Motorway extension would lead to an increase in criminals from the southern suburbs driving to Mt Albert to do burglaries.
Wow, that is an incredibly shit take by that MP.
I wonder if house prices reflect the logic that busy streets are better than quiet ones?
A very interesting read but I’m left wanting more – particularly more local examples of the problems and more suggested solutions.
My problem is that I don’t just intuitively “get it”. The reason for that is that intersectionally I’m almost at the very panicle of uber privilege (Het, white, straight, neurotypical, university educated, married, middle class, middle aged, fully employed, suburban home owning, professional, raised by loving married Christian parents, with access to two cars and two e-bikes) In fact if not for the saving graces of being overweight, bald and living with a chronic medical condition I would be about the worst possible person of privilege there is.
I want to be an ally but often unless the issues are explained to me I just wont get them. So that is why an article like this leaves me wanting more.
However as a member of the uber privileged elite I think I can say that we don’t do it deliberately. Me and my gentlemen friends don’t actually gather in groups in the club to sip fine whiskey and plot how to stuff everything up for everyone else. I think the poor outcomes probably happen because we just don’t get it. (Obviously some of the others might have noticed that I look a bit suspiciously socialist in outlook and so they just don’t invite me to those planning sessions.)
I’m hopeful that if issues are explained in ways that don’t inflame the easily bruised egos of my fellow golden ones we will be open to doing things differently as well (Even if for many it is really just so that we can compete in proving which of us is best at being an ally rather than properly giving a damn).
Lol. I do know that frustrating feeling of wanting more examples.
You could ask an advocate to be taken on walking, biking and bus journeys around Auckland with a diverse set of people. Talk to them about why they live where they do, their daily travel habits, what’s difficult. The examples will come flooding in. Then some background work to understand the history of each problem will probably show that one set of values was followed when others were needed:
– Optimising travel flow instead of making healthy streets for people,
– closing facilities needed in the community to save money (while wasting money on road capacity or conference centres)
– safety being considered an option if there’s space and funding instead of being core to all work
– continued exposure that disability guidelines were ignored not leading to a systems change.
I’m not an expert (and I also carry many privileges). I do think it is on us to seek the answers though, rather than requesting that people deliver them on a plate! Doing the right thing means actively seeking input from the people you wish to support – and finding the best ways of doing that. As the author notes you wouldn’t expect someone working several jobs or with other access issues to be able to log onto the Council website to make formal submissions. Then we have to actually implement the solutions, all while accepting further feedback for better iterations.
Building more diverse organisations also helps with delivery – you may have heard the slogan “nothing about us without us”? It means that rather than imposing our solutions on diverse communities, they are included in the leadership that delivers them.
Very compelling piece, thank you so much for writing it. My daughter, 14, is a great example of finding her own way in life as mentioned. She and friends know the pt network inside out and travel from the West to K Rd for op shopping ( flares are In!) and generally being themselves. I’m personally interested in the mention of cafés as taking away from others space, as a tea drinker I would hang out in caffs but these no longer exist. Working with teenagers they mentioned how they visited fast food places and even Starbucks as places they could hang without feeling judged as opposed to the typical NZ Cafe
Yeah, that makes sense.
Maybe I should pre-empt this, that I work within urban planning and have studied history, philosophy as well as urban planning. I’ll try not to make this a ‘hit-piece’ response to the article, although that’s going to be difficult. It’s clear that there’s an agenda here, outside of the way in which our cities and urban environment is planned. The author of this piece quotes Leslie Kern with considerable regularity in the article. If you’re not familiar with her work, then just google her. I’m not saying this in an attempt to attack the messenger and not her ideas, that’s for later, but to set the scene around what the angle of the this article is written. The first quote the we see when we ‘google’ Kern is: Upward thrusting buildings ejaculating into the sky’ – encapsulating within a single quote that our urban environment is a patriarchal, if by nothing more than the emphasis on shape and structure. This of course is to set the scene for her argument – heaven forbid that it might just be the best use of space. Her quote is as absurd as suggesting that the US army’s foreign policy is feminist, due to the architectural elements of the Pentagon. Anyway, to suggest that we look at ‘intersectional’ philosophy in our urban environment is absurd – we already do this. Our spend on design and implantation is based on a hierarchical structure of ‘oppression’, the actual oppressive nature of our movements through the environment, based on actual, not perceived harm. This is done though statistical data of harm caused (DSI’s, deaths and serious injuries). We spend a lot of time and money making the network safer for young, elderly and for those with disabilities. We have strict urban design guidelines to ensure that we prioritize these members of our community. Just because this intersectional structure is a component of society and affects the majority of us at some point in our lives does NOT make the structure of how we fund and design urban environments ‘colonialism, patriarchal ’ or some such vacuous attempt at subverting a culture that is seems has reached the level of decadence that it has now allowed people to reach a level of self-flagellation where they see urban design as ‘oppressive’.
This piece is so lacks self-awareness that it manages to do exactly what it’s railing against. It suggests that an urban movement should come from the grass roots of those in the urban environment to achieve the outcomes that it sees as in their best interests, to advantage them in the name of equality. This amounts to an desire to colonize the ideology of these groups, change their way of thinking in a way that the author feels is in their interests – in another life the author would have been a missionary converting indigenous people of the world to Christianity – but now she has a new religion. If you can call Marxism a religion, you probably can – it’s somewhat mythical.
Communities are organic, as are market forces – they move to areas to thrive. Pushing these communities into environments that they don’t wish to be in is not right, it doesn’t work. I agree with the author that this shouldn’t happen. Most people just want to be with others like themselves, it’s where they feel safe, valued and supported. As planners we need to listen to our communities and integrate the way that they wish to live within a model that supports growth, freedom and safety. Shoe horning in measures that fulfil the egotistical victim narrative that the author has engendered herself to is condescending and unappealing to the majority of people. In short, Marxism and intersectionality based on theoretical victim status models based on race and gender only serves to make our environments less safe, less diverse and unappealing to eye, just look at an soviet era city. But sure, you grift away to the vocal minority – I’ll just continue in my job working with communities to build infrastructure focused on active modes, safety and inclusivity, I’ll keep identity politics out of it – it’s divisive and ultimately not needed.
Maybe you should have read the bit at the top where it says “It is a review of Feminist City by Leslie Kern (Verso, 2020).” before complaining about how often it quotes Kern…
Most of the rest of your argument is not backed up by reality either. For example:
– “… based on actual, not perceived harm. This is done though statistical data of harm caused (DSI’s, deaths and serious injuries).” This is a case of garbage in garbage out because the statistics are sparse (DSI) to non-existant (near-misses, places people avoid because they aren’t safe etc.).
– “We have strict urban design guidelines to ensure that we prioritize these members of our community.” The existing guidelines aren’t perfect but they aren’t even followed by the agencies responsible for implementing them.
This article is ultimately about inclusivity, which you claim to be in favour of, so I’m not sure why you put so much effort into railing against it.
Because the entire argument is based within a philosophy that is divisive – not inclusive. That’s what intersectionality by it’s very nature. It sets to divide people up into groups based on immutable characteristics. This is not ‘science’ or data, it’s politics. Keep this out of what we’re trying to do in making environments safer for all, based on data, not the perceived injustices of the world.
‘That’s what intersectionality by it’s very nature. It sets to divide people up into groups based on immutable characteristics.’
This is precisely the opposite of the truth. “Individuals do not fit neatly within any one category, but live as people with racial, gendered, abled and sexual identities, privileges and forms of oppression are interlinked and cannot be addressed alone” – https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Intersectionality
The same (deliberate?) misrepresentation is familiar from what the Right in the US culture wars says about “critical race theory”, and the spread of such knee-jerk reactions to local discourse is one reason why we can’t have nice things.
Our urban status quo is exclusive/divisive. Some people are disadvantaged by existing infrastructure to the point of being unable to fully participate in society, they are excluded. If we can’t identify what it is that’s excluding people then we can’t fix the status quo.
Whether you like it or not, dividing people up based on immutable characteristics is a normal part of the world we live in. It can either be used constructively to better serve disadvantaged groups or it can be used destructively to further disadvantage them.
Surely the ‘data’ you speak of is based on years of operating and existing within infrastructure, procedures, polices, laws that were mostly all developed and implemented by a male dominated government and society.
So really we are coming at it from a base position where male, able bodied people designed and approved most urban forms to something where inclusivity and seeking others views and positions is not only desirable but needs to make up for the lack of it over so many decades before.
“The author of this piece quotes Leslie Kern with considerable regularity in the article”
Yes. Because it’s a review of her book. Seems a strange objection.
The “upthrust buildings” quote (from pages 22-23 of Kern’s book) is a paraphrase of the argument of feminist architect Dolores Hayden from 1977. Kern’s own comment on this is:
“Stone, brick, glass, and concrete don’t have agency, do they? They aren’t consciously trying to uphold the patriarchy, are they? No, but their form helps shape the range of possibilities for individuals and groups. Their form helps keep some things seeming normal and right, and others “out of place” and wrong. In short, physical places like cities matter when we want to think about social change.”
This comment appears to be an angry rebuttal of something that I didn’t actually write, provoked by the use of language which resembles something which the commenter was very upset by elsewhere.
Culture-war stuff about Marxism and identity politics is out of place here, although I figured it would inevitably come up.
If you really want to defend actually-existing urban design practices, perhaps you could deal with a specific issue of exclusionary urban design that I raised: maybe the thing about the K’ Road cycle lane not getting input from disability advocates and thus coming up with an exclusionary design.
There is a lot to unpack there, Saskia.
“Our spend on design and implantation is … based on actual, not perceived harm.”
Design for Healthy Streets and modeshift requires attention to perceptions as much as to actual harm. And Vision Zero requires looking at potential, rather than actual harm.
“… This is done though statistical data of harm caused (DSI’s, deaths and serious injuries).”
The only appropriate way to statistically analyse DSI is by categorising types of infrastructure and pooling all the data for them, plus by having excellent “denominators” eg km walked, or km cycled, number of local wheelchair users, number of times wheelchairs cross at this location, etc. In this country, we don’t collect the data required, eg our counts of walking and cycling and people with disabilities is very scant.
So in NZ we absolutely are not designing using DSI appropriately.
Unfortunately, the way that design in NZ usually uses DSI data is retrospectively, ie a death or serious injury at a particular location is often what pushes the need for an intervention there up the priority scale. This is a failed approach that Vision Zero specifically rejects. Our investment programme would be very different if we could get past this and start investing in people’s needs. Instead, we’ve had for decades a very toxic decision framework that has erroneously prioritised traffic flow.
“We spend a lot of time and money making the network safer for young, elderly and for those with disabilities.”
From the OECD countries investigated in a study a few years ago, Auckland had the second worst rate of pedestrian deaths per km walked. Our children don’t have independent mobility due to the lack of safety – and this is objectively measured – and it is stunting their physical, cognitive, emotional and social development. Our elderly are getting struck by vehicles in our systematically unsafe street environments.
“We have strict urban design guidelines to ensure that we prioritize these members of our community.”
We have guidelines but they are not followed. For example, there should be a through-route for pedestrians on footpaths right next to the property boundary and tables should be in the street furniture zone by the kerb, but Council goes and leases that space to the retailers. We have guidelines about slopes on the footpath but they aren’t followed, so our local wheelchair users can’t even go along recently laid concrete footpaths that dip up and down to the driveways too much. I could go on for a week with examples.
“Just because this intersectional structure is a component of society and affects the majority of us at some point in our lives does NOT make the structure of how we fund and design urban environments ‘colonialism, patriarchal’ ”
Our focus on making driving easier and walking harder does indeed have patriarchal roots. So does the current AT bias against investing sufficiently in off peak and outer suburb PT services. They want PT investment to be entirely about reducing congestion so that people (eg those with work carparks in the city centre) aren’t held up in their cars when congestion is bad. Their decisions are directly and negatively impacting people who don’t drive – children, the very elderly, the disabled, and women who trip chain during the day.
“…or some such vacuous attempt at subverting a culture that is seems has reached the level of decadence that it has now allowed people to reach a level of self-flagellation where they see urban design as ‘oppressive’.”
There is no vacuity or self-flagellation going on here. Given the problems with your own argument, I think it would be good to apologise to our guest poster. Your comment was, frankly, an absurd and unfounded attack.
“Our spend on design and implantation is based …”
Good grief perhaps our buildings should have a warning on them that they are not to be taken internally.
I was looking forward to what else you’ve opined about on social media and where you work, Saskia, but you’re amazingly absent from a google search. Except as a character in a novel.
Would you like to give us some more information about your work “with communities to build infrastructure focused on active modes, safety and inclusivity”? It might be easier to take your words about ‘colonising the ideology’ and ‘the egotistical victim narrative’ if you could tell us more about that work. (From your opinions, I have my doubt that this is your area of work at all, but I could be wrong. It does take all sorts.)
Hi Caitlin – I don’t believe that I mentioned an ‘egotistical victim narrative’ in any of my posts. You may referring to the original piece, as that made up the majority of the text. I did mention a real life victim narrative in terms of those that are actually injured when they engage with the urban environment – through DSI’s etc. I agree, this is a terrible tool with which to assess infrastructure spend, as is CAS data. However, my point (no matter how clumsily made) is that this is the data we go one to identify areas to spend much of the road safety budget. Of course there are other avenues for infrastructure spend, such as the innovating streets WK budget. Budget is finite and limited – I personally don’t think that we have the luxury to go down intersectional rabbit holes to identify minority groups that might (and that’s a very big ‘might’) benefit, as the expense of safety and inclusivity spend in proven areas i.e. vulnerable road users and those with disabilities.
Your sentence was “Shoe horning in measures that fulfil the egotistical victim narrative that the author has engendered herself to is condescending and unappealing to the majority of people.”
Your comment “Budget is finite and limited – I personally don’t think that we have the luxury to go down intersectional rabbit holes” just comes across as misinformed to most regular Greater Auckland readers. We read posts here regularly about the many ways our transport budget is being mis-spent. Mis-spent, I should add, due to out of date and patriarchal value systems.
The idea of an inclusive city in which everyone benefits from a focus on the most vulnerable is neither new nor ethically challengeable. Either you don’t understand where the bulk of our budget is going, or you don’t really work with communities.
Do you mind clarifying, Saskia? Above you said, “Anyway, to suggest that we look at ‘intersectional’ philosophy in our urban environment is absurd – we already do this.”
Here you’ve said, “I personally don’t think that we have the luxury to go down intersectional rabbit holes to identify minority groups that might (and that’s a very big ‘might’) benefit”
Do we, or don’t we? Or are you getting caught on words because you’re thinking of something really specific?
The “bad-faith messaging” referred to in the article has been very obvious recently, and is very frustrating. If there’s an agenda behind this post, it seems to me to be a healthy one: Raising awareness of the methods used in this bad-faith messaging and of the different perspectives that different people have, and how our very approach to change must respect this.
This seems inclusive, not divisive. So I don’t understand why you have been so repelled by it.
Hi Derek, thank you for your comment. Sorry, i probably didn’t make myself clear. ‘intersectionality’ is an ideology based on the hierarchy of oppression – and when i said that we already do this what i meant was – we have ‘oppressed’ groups of people in our urban environment. This oppression is based on the hierarchy of their mode use, age, physical ability etc. And we do our best to cater for these groups. I’m a very, very strong advocate for this, it’s my job. I’ve been doing this for 20 years. The ‘intersectionality’ referred to in the original text relates to a hierarchy of oppression based on gender, sexuality, race etc, etc… This is a distraction and disengenous to the people that work tirelessly in the community space to make transport and infrastructure accessable for all. It’s a political red herring and does nothing than to divide.
Thanks. I’d be interested to read more, then. Can you recommend a good critique?
I learn best by example, and am interested in the impacts on the outcome urban form
So I’ll suggest a relatively recent example.
The Temporary over-bridge at the CRL Mt Eden site. Its a temporary pedestrian and services over-bridge accessible only by stairs that will be knocked down once CRL is closer to done.
From what I can tell, this was originally supposed to just be a services over-bridge, no pedestrian access. Then someone recognized that it wouldn’t cost that much at all to add temporary scaffolding stairs, a deck, and some handrails and improve the access and decrease disruption for the majority of people in the area.
My question is, Should this have not been done?
The options were (from what I can tell, someone feel free to prove me wrong):
either no pedestrian access,
or able bodied only access, adding temporary lifts would have been too much cost.
(this is the premise, no sidestepping)
It is unequal inherently, but the cost was very very low, and it improves the lives of many.
Do we hold back some, in order to make the built environment more equal? Should they close the pedestrian over-bridge now?
I have a strong opinion here, but I want to guage what others think.
Here’s the link, I tried to embed it above
I haven’t been there to consider it, Jack. But one thing to consider is: for the people who don’t have access (people with disabilities, people pushing prams, etc) who are left walking the long way around … what’s it like for them with less passive surveillance and fewer other people? (I don’t know but it is a pretty unfriendly streetscape.)
Should the city have some relocatable lifts to move from construction site to construction site for this sort of situation? Could the city have a discussion based on what the real costs of attending to this kind of situation with full access would be if we actually had systems in place to keep the costs down through not having to work it out from scratch each time?
I support the goal of providing accessibilty for all including the mobility-impaired, wherever practicable. But I have a problem with disallowing a facility which only the non-impaired can use, in cases where the only practicable alternative is no facility at all, so that no-one at all can benefit.
This reminds me of a temporary station which was erected on a railway in the north of England to allow people to be shuttled across a rail-over-river bridge by train, after the parallel road-bridge was washed away. It became a popular facility with the locals and when the road bridge was fixed a campaign was started to make the station permanent. However the need to provide full accessibility meant that this was deemed unaffordable and the temporary facility was removed and not replaced. Mobility-impaired gained nothing and everyone else lost out. This seems wrong.
Meanwhile, if the term mobility-impairment is broadened to encompass those unable to drive or afford a car, no such imperative exists to ensure that this section of the population is afforded equal rights to accessibility in a car-dependent society.
Yes. Here’s something to think about, Dave: https://www.transportxtra.com/publications/local-transport-today/features/69199/do-inclusive-transport-strategies-really-consider-the-needs-of-all-/ I’m wondering about NZ’s equivalent equality legislation.
Thank you for your response. Interesting view point, i apologise for my abbreviated take. My ‘anger’ was somewhat fuled by the interwoven nature of the original protagonists work, without what I would call, an adequate critique.
A more thoughtful approach may have been an examination of how an urban environment is shaped by it’s enhabitants rather than the counter point just mentioned. As a commenter posted earlier, it’s not as though planners wake every morning thinking ‘how can i make life worse for…. A, b, and c’ everyday – there are no huddled meetings in darkened rooms around making lives harder for disabled people. We’re given space, budgets and statistics with which to work, and believe me we’re working hard to ensure what we deliver accomdates for the widest range of people we can.
If you wish to keep culture wars and Marxism out of the debate then don’t try and entwine intersectionality into your argument, or at least have the honestly to concede that intersectionality has its roots in Frankfurt School’s ideology and Marxism. Failure to do so just means that you come across as a dishonest actor and will mean that you’ll end up in a left wing echo chamber.
A bit of heat in the discussion here. I think it may be because this so important as an issue in design and we need to undo a lot of unconscious (and conscious!) infrastructure design that sectionalizes and marginalizes so many people.
Inclusive/universal design demands that we identify the user requirements of all people, especially those marginalized in our thinking, before we set out to design space for public life (including movement). I like the discussion of privacy and respect for others in public space. It enables us to balance equitable outcomes for all before we tackle design for spaces that have, in our lifetimes, been designed for only limited purposes.
If a designer cannot tie any element or effect of design back to the basic principles, there is every likelihood that someone will be excluded rather than enabled.
Just as Vision Zero cannot define an acceptable level of death or serious harm, urban design should not attempt to define an acceptable level of exclusion. This includes confronting historical barriers to inclusion. We also need to enable those who have their own perspective and experience to share this with us so that we learn how to design without exclusion.
Thanks – I really appreciated this article, especially the emphasis on the need for public transport to cater for more than commuter trips and the importance of understanding the multiple realities of public spaces. The idea of a “sustainable urbanism from below” is powerful.
Realising this requires participatory structures to make it work, and the current trend across the board is that local democracy has failed and needs to be replaced by technocratic centralism and market liberalism. I am really hearted to hear someone ask how to we strengthen democracy at the ground level rather than advocating that it should be abolished and replaced by experts.
One gentle observation is that the statement that “the population of the urban cores and inner suburbs are predominantly middle-class beneficiaries of gentrification, while working-class people, tangata whenua and migrant communities are concentrated in outer suburbs at the end of long motorways.” may be true for Tamaki Makarau but it does not hold consistently for the rest of Aotearoa’s major urban areas. In Wellington City for example, views are at least as good a predictor of property values as proximity to the CBD. In Dunedin, to choose another example, topography and access to light are huge influences.
Finally, I would repeat a comment I made elsewhere around the need for Auckland to look beyond the isthmus. Auckland is not a unipolar city. Up until amalgamation it was explicitly multi-polar, now the focus on the isthmus hides the fact that huge proportion of the population lives elsewhere.
Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions needed over the next 5-30 years need to come from existing residents. Most transport emissions arise outside the central area. Focussing intensification in the isthmus will do next to nothing to reduce emissions. Those familiar with the work over many years by Cervero and Ewing will be familiar with this finding.
Emissions reducing intensification needs instead to focus on strengthening the network of sub-regional centres and urban villages and linking them with good quality public transport and cycling facilities while ensuring streets within are welcoming and walkable.
But this only half the story. Critical to emissions reduction is creating far more 15 minute communities than currently exist. Housing intensification needs to occur around sub-regional centres and urban villages in ways that strengthen relocalisation. Relocalisation of services and facilities is the critical measure for reducing emissions because it reduces the need for motorised trips.
It is also a critical part of climate justice. The obsession with sprinkling up-market high-rises in the inner suburbs makes for great Twitter fodder but ignores the needs of the bulk of people on lower incomes.
Most low-income families in Auckland live in areas built as part of the 1960s sprawl. The real challenge for intensification and emissions reduction in Auckland is not how to build a few more luxury apartments and shade a few more villas in Grey Lynn 🙂
Rather it is how to relocalise, refit and reduce car dependence across the vast acres of sprawl north, south and west of the isthmus, where many many people live, especially those on lower incomes who will be badly hit by rising energy costs.
There is almost no conversation around relocalisation to create more choices for people who generate a lot of Auckland’s emissions. Many of these folk have few options beyond car dependence, and are dealing with unaffordable housing costs. Targeted Intensification at sub-regional and urban village level, as well as better support for active modes and public transport, rather than a random sprinkling of apartments across the isthmus, seems critical to both climate action and climate justice.
Whenever I have gone to continental Europe I have been impressed by the concept of small towns nucleated around railway stations with farmland or forest between them. The towns are walkable/cyclable and the public transport between them is good. Also noticeable is how self-contained these communities are, with many basic facilities within easy reach.
The anglophone countries have not followed this pattern. From the 1960s on, Britain destroyed many of its local railways which would have formed the basis for progressing with the nucleated pattern, and many small provincial towns stagnated or became car-dependent dormitories for the cities as a result. The opportunity to pursue Europe’s approach was thrown away in a fit of British idiocy. The US, Aus and NZ did similar.
But this remains a viable and more sustainable model for the anglophone countries to return to once they finally own the mistakes they have made.
You could try The Madnes of crowds by Douglas Murray. He explains how we’ve got to this very strange place in history. As a somewhat conservative minded female I’m often left confounding as to the increasingly bizarre environment in which we live and work.
The Guardian? Seriously? Come on man… Now I should be expecting someone quoting Fox News as a credible source tomorrow. Give it a rest
Yes, that’s the book. Although the review is as good an example of gaslighting as I’ve read this week and is completely counter to my ‘lived experience’. Maybe read reviews from sources other than the guardian before investing time in reading it.
Douglas Murray is certainly worth listening to on You Tube. Another book worth reading for those with a conservative outlook and disillusioned with the effect that the overwhelming number of motor vehicles is having on our cities is Sir Roger Scruton’s ” How to be a conservative”. I recommend it.
No need to worry, Saskia. with the “madness of crowds”. Most of the world is mad at the moment with a “climate crisis”. Don’t be confounded as a conservative woman….and I’ve got very glad tidings for your children.
Here’s the truth of the science….(mainly my confrontation with Rick)
Sky Dragon Slayers Chief Public Relations Officer.
Interesting article. I can’t support divisive beliefs like intersectionality that divides people by things they have no control of or other vague concepts such as the pink tax or the patriarchy. Those are personal opinions held by individuals which is totally ok, but the data doesn’t really support them.
I mean, people who talk about the pink tax don’t seem to understand how capitalism works. Businesses charge higher prices for more profit as long as people keep buying their products. I’ll change my mind if human nature and the data changes, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. All I see is a total lack of empirical data or poor use of statistics or people confusing correlation with causation and so on.
But I totally support the general premise of the article of getting input from a wider range of viewpoints which usually results in better outcomes. A variety of viewpoints helps create better solutions than ones stemming from limited viewpoints. That type of variety or diversity is often lacking in public road/space projects. We really need to do better and ask for better.
I do agree with the idea of cycle lanes as “elitist and bordering on racism”.
Affluent white people designing/building for poor brown people.
Resulting in infrastructure that virtually no one uses. Except perhaps for affluent white folk cycling through on the weekend.
It’s like they have no concept of a child’s bike/helmet being stolen at school or on the way to/from school and having no money to replace it. A world where intimidation from youth gangs are a daily fact of life for children. Not being able to afford to buy a helmet or a puncture repair kit or an inner tube, so the bike sits there unused. Once the child is old enough to work (regardless of whether they finish school or not), they move from one low wage job to another for the rest of their lives in order to help support their families, never to pick the bike up again. Usually, because like their parent/s they just don’t have the luxury of time to get between multiple part-time jobs.
I’m a fan of segregated cycleways and think we should extend the existing network where they will actually get used. Eventually, we will have the luxury of building them everywhere. I’m certain the empty cycleways Mangere will get better used as the waves of gentrification move through there.
Great take Ari, I feel frustrated when causes that I feel passionate about are hijacked for political gain, it often damages what I and maby others are trying to achieve. You pretty much know what the agenda is when they start using pseudo science buzz words. Either these people are ignorant to the politics of the agenda they’re pushing, or more worryingly they know exactly what they’re doing and damn the consequences.
Maybe it’s a combination of the two, ignorance and agenda driven – and they’re arrogant enough to think that they can do it better this time?
Mangere is a retrofit, so it’s struggling against the incumbent habits and attitudes.
A missed opportunity to take a passionate advocate in-house.
Waimahia Inlet in Manurewa has kids walking, riding and scooting around the neighborhood, because it was built to support that. People bought into it as owners and tenants.
People feel safe letting their kids out to the two playgrounds and nearby primary school with minimal to zero supervision. They walk, scoot, skateboard and bike. These are desirable destinations close enough to be reached in relative safety in active modes, by kids as young as 5 years. It is normal, no gentrification or helmet required.
I don’t agree that bike friendly streets are elitist or racist. Anyone can ride them, including all ages, ethnicities, incomes and abilities. The better they are built, the more inclusive they are.
I would counter that the pressures to drive and to carry the costs are elitist, as they strongly favour the wealthy. Similarly the risk, especially to young drivers, of death or injury as later, heavier, pricier models of car protect their driver better.
I would argue that stops and convictions for licence infringements and poor vehicle condition can be racist, where they are occurring disproportionately in suburbs poorly served by alternatives.
Thank you. I agree.
Great article Daphne, I really enjoyed it.
I’m sorry you’ve had so many bad faith takes in the comments.
‘bad faith takes’ the only thing you’re probably sorry about is that Daphne was called out on it, she studies Post-Marxism and Marxist political economy for goodness sake!
I’m really trying to understand your points, Saskia, but “Reds under the beds” comments like that don’t serve your case. So what if she studies Post-Marxism and Marxist political economy? Are you trying to return us to the days of the Whanganui computer when political science students who studied Marxism were recorded?
This in itself is divisive. We have a lot of work ahead of us required to adapt our political economy so it serves us better. The more people informed about other systems the better so we can consider all sorts of details.
My point is, is that she completely understands the angle she’s taking. One of neo-Marxism. It’s not even a question, it’s obvious to anyone with a clue about history. I am as offended by Marxist ideology as I am fascist and would, and do, call it out wherever I see it. And i sure as heck want to keep it out of my workplace. You, and others, may seem no harm in it, maybe you think it ‘cool’ or ‘edgy’. I call an ideology that is responsible for the death of close to a hundred million people over the last decade through starvation, torture and murder more than a little suboptimal.
Are you equally offended by capitalism? Because it is as responsible for the climate crisis as fascism and Marxism, and therefore is responsible for many deaths too, risking way more than a hundred million lives.
I am pretty sad that some of the core issues in this post, such as:
– the importance of public transport catering for travel beyond the peaks
– the importance of doing things with communities rather than to them (what Aussies call “experts on tap not on top”)
– the need for urban spaces to work for a multitude of needs
– the need to ensure all voices have the opportunity to be heard
are getting lost. I am sad but, to be honest, unsurprised. Go most well.
I’m offended by any system that causes harm to others – but especially systems that deliberately marginalize others – which on a body count basis Marxism wins hands down. You seem to have tied your colours to the mast, so I guess to expedite your inclusion in a utopian vision you’ll be hopping on a plane to SA, Cuba or Venezuela then? Thought not.
“Tied my colours to the mast”?? I’m not Marxist in the slightest. I’m just aware that you started to argue against the content of the article, and didn’t come across particularly well. So next you attempted to discredit the author on the basis of what she’s studied. I think that reflects very poorly on you.
Thanks for your comment. You asked if i was equally offended by capitalism, going on to say that it’s capitalism that’s responsible for climate change, which is complete nonsense, as you well know – capitalism does not dictate the level of anthropological climate change – it’s idiotic to state that. Market forces expedite cleaner technology. So you’re either anti-capitalist (aligned with Marxist doctorate) or idiotic.
Compare “capitalism… is **as responsible for the climate crisis as** fascism and Marxism”
with “it’s capitalism **that’s responsible for** climate change”
That’s all rather confusing to me , Caitlin…. speaking as dumb, reactionary, fat, ugly, filthy-rich, cigar-huffing, misogynist, capitalist pig.
I think you’re on a hiding to nowhere comparing bodycounts.
The Atlantic Slave Trade, Irish Potato Famine, Partition of India, United States and Great Britain Genocide of First Nation Peoples, The Belgian Congo, Franco’s Insurgency in Spain, The Banana Wars of the Caribbean and Central Americas, Western Intervention in the Middle East in the last 2 Centuries…
Perhaps we can agree to critique ideas and technologies on their merit rather than the prevalent ideology in their place of origin?
We’d be left with nothing but cobwebs in our toolbox otherwise!
I am not sure at what point moderators step in but for me as a member of this community, the final sentence of this post steps beyond what I understand as the kaupapa of this group. I have expressed very strong opinions here in the past and others have too but in general people avoid personal attacks.
Thanks, Roland. And your comments have been good, too. I agree with you.
Douglas Murray is certainly worth listening to on You Tube.
Another book worth reading for those with a conservative outlook and disillusioned with the effect that the overwhelming number of motor vehicles is having on our cities is Sir Roger Scruton’s ” How to be a conservative” originally published in 2014 but with a ne edition in 2019. I recommend it.