Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Chelsea Clinton may soon launch her own venture capital firm, Simone Biles covers Vogue, and we ponder the feminist city of the future. Have a wonderful weekend.
– Care-ful cities. Handwringing over the possible demise of urban life has become an established trope of the pandemic. (Serious question: How many stories can the New York Times possibly run about NYC dwellers fleeing to the ‘burbs?) But while reports of the death of cities may suffer from Mark Twain-style exaggeration, there’s little doubt that COVID-19 will lead to major changes to the world’s metropolises.
As city officials and urban planners look ahead, I hope they’ll consider this Bloomberg excerpt from Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-made World, by Leslie Kern, an associate professor of geography and environment, and director of women’s and gender studies at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick. Though written before the pandemic (and the recent protests calling for racial justice), Kern’s ideas are perfectly relevant for the moment—and have the potential to create post-COVID American cities where we could live more safely and equitably than ever before.
Kern explores the idea of designing cities to make life easier for caretakers. For too long, she notes, many urban planners have created cityscapes with “the white, cis, able-bodied, middle class, heterosexual man” in mind. That paradigm is starting to change in some parts of the world, where “gender mainstreaming” is increasingly being adopted. As an example, Kern cites Stockholm’s snowplowing strategy (stay with me!):
“In most cases, cities plow major roads leading to the central city first, leaving residential streets, sidewalks, and school zones until last. In contrast, cities like Stockholm have adopted a ‘gender equal plowing strategy’ that instead prioritizes sidewalks, bike paths, bus lanes, and daycare zones in recognition of the fact that women, children, and seniors are more likely to walk, bike, or use mass transit.”
Of course, some of these “gender mainstreaming” efforts have played into gender stereotypes (think women’s parking garage floors with bigger spaces—presumable to accommodate our subpar parking skills). And even those that are less insulting are often built for a certain kind of woman—specifically, writes Kern, “a married, able-bodied mother with a pink- or white-collar job.” Creating a true feminist city would mean thinking of all women, and particularly low-income women, who often feel the toughest parts of urban life—long commutes, gentrification, cramped living quarters—most acutely.
So how do we do it? The Kern excerpt doesn’t have all the answers—but it’s asking all the right questions.
Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe.