Arm city planners with a pram and a toddler

"If a city is female-friendly, it is friendly for everybody."

These are the words of Lucy Turnbull, chairwoman of the think tank Committee for Sydney.

She says city planners and designers must focus on building female-friendly cities as a key element of urban renewal.

That means fixing footpaths so that women can push prams, lengthening the time traffic signals give pedestrians so women can cross safely, carefully considering the placement of street lights and bus stops, and building communities that encourage walking, cycling and public transport.

This is not such a simple task in a world where cities were designed by men with little thought to how the other half of the population operates.

Understanding what it's like to feel vulnerable after dark or experiencing the battle to push a pram along a street while coaxing an unwieldy toddler can change the way we think about the design of our streets.

Don't believe gender has played a role in the design of our cities? Consider Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, who championed the idea of designing buildings and objects at a "human scale" – which happened to be modelled on a six-foot tall man.

A female view of our cities may change the design of them all together. The garden city movement – of which Canberra is perhaps the best example around the world – centred on a philosophy of families living in leafy suburbs while work happened "somewhere else".

In this utopia, the man commuted to work while the woman stayed at home to care for the children. Today's family structures are far more complex, and yet we still have what social researchers have dubbed the "spatial leash". The further out from the city centre a woman lives, the less likely she is to be employed.

Other countries are starting to look through the prism of women. In Canada, planning agencies ask women to walk around neighbourhoods and pinpoint areas where they feel unsafe. In Britain, late-night bus routes are altered to drop women closer to their destinations.

So, how do you design a city for women? Just ask us.

First published in The Canberra Times, 14 November 2015.
http://www.canberratimes.com.au/comment/cities-should-be-femalefriendly-20151113-gky1zb.html