An election manifesto for making truly inclusive cities

Too many political platforms are designed for the benefit of white, male, 9am commuters. Women in Urbanism Aotearoa has put forward a list of policies for candidates who want to serve everyone in their communities.

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“Cities have the ability of providing something for everybody, but only because, and only when, they are created by everybody” – Jane Jacobs

Mayors, councillors and local board members have the power to lead cities and towns to become places that work for the needs of all who live in them. They can assist the process of unravelling the historically sexist design of cities, and amplify the voices of women and those typically unheard in civic life.

The reason Women in Urbanism Aotearoa focuses on cities and towns is because historically we have not designed these places well for women. The closer we live to one another, the more we have to design spaces carefully and thoughtfully. Issues like street harassment; crime after dark; women being unable to afford housing; and hostile motorways with no walking amenities are inherently urban issues, and they need a specifically urban and fiercely female response.

Women and men don’t use cities and towns in the same way. For example, the data shows that women in Aotearoa walk and use public transport more, while men drive more. Typically, the places men are going are serviced by public transport, and women’s travel isn’t. 

International statistics via Womenability, a project for gender equity in cities

We also have terrible walking infrastructure throughout most of the country, but our roads are pretty damn good. You can see here the footpath just ends on one of Auckland’s busiest roads. 

Greenlane Road at the entrance to Cornwall Park, Auckland (Photo: supplied)

There are many more examples (see below) of these kind of misplaced priorities in our walking network – the network women are mostly using. It’s important to note that women are still more likely to be the primary caregivers for children and seniors. And women are living longer than men in Aotearoa. Try pushing a pram onto this pedestrian bridge, or down this footpath. Try doing it in a wheelchair, or with a walking frame. It’s important to note that most men wouldn’t feel comfortable using this infrastructure, let alone people with prams, walkers and wheelchairs.

Some pedestrian infrastructure in Auckland (Photo: supplied)

Cities don’t yet provide for the experiences of women, and many other groups of people who are made vulnerable by poor city design. The intersecting issues of gender and urbanism may be a new concept to many, but women do experience cities, transport and housing differently to men, and there are many inequalities in the infrastructure creating cities that don’t work well for women.  

Women in Urbanism Aotearoa stand for inclusive, beautiful, sustainable cities. There are many ways we can design cities to be more inclusive places. To properly represent the interests of all New Zealanders, here are some of the policies we believe any council candidate should promote:

Free rides for prams on public transport 

In Stockholm, Sweden, caregivers with prams ride buses for free. This isn’t just a nice thing for the city to do to be more inclusive – it also helps with bus dwell times. The bus doesn’t have to wait very long for people with prams, and can stay on schedule. Candidates need to refocus their public transport policies so they’re not just about shuttling able-bodied workers in and out of the city centre.

Prioritise off-peak public transport 

Women tend to make more of their trips “off-peak” aka the hours outside of the morning and evening rush hour commuter traffic. Historically though, there has been little focus from transport planners on these off-peak trip times. Instead planners focus bus resources and bus lanes on chasing the “great white commuter” working 9-5 in the centre city. A more equitable approach is to just make public transport fast and frequent all of the time for everyone.   

Protect bike lanes and micro-mobility paths

Candidates around the country are silent on investing in cycling. In cities where cycling infrastructure is high-quality and mostly protected, more women cycle than men, and children cycle freely. Currently, more men cycle than women in Aotearoa, and in some areas, children are banned from cycling to school. 

Summer streets in Stockholm, Sweden, where they close the street to cars and open the streets to people in the summer months. (Photo: supplied)

Women also regularly report being harassed while cycling on our roads, but very little of the harassment takes place in protected bike lanes. 

Furthermore, if we create bike lanes that are safe enough for children, we’ll take the burden of having to chauffeur children off parents, particularly mothers.

Candidates should be unafraid to talk about cycling – the mode that will give more New Zealanders equitable access to their communities.

Design cities for tamariki and their caregivers

Aotearoa has a serious lack of playgrounds. Auckland city centre is a perfect example of this disparity. There are over 1500 families with children living in the inner city, and there is a deficit of playgrounds. While Silo Park is well used, it’s significantly out of the way for most people using the city. Myers Park is just too creepy.  That’s it for play spaces for children. Parents who live in central Auckland often talk about the lack of spaces for them and their children. If we want to design inclusive cities, we need to provide better for our children.

Put women at the heart of planning policy

Vienna, Austria uses gender mainstreaming (a set of rules and laws) to ensure that everyone is provided with equal access to the city’s infrastructure and resources, regardless of gender. It has massively impacted the area of urban planning. Since its inception, housing has been created with women in mind, the city’s parks have been retrofitted to encourage more girls to use them, and upon realising that women walked more than men (like in Aotearoa), they improved their walking network, installing lighting, ramps and widening footpaths to be the width of two prams. Candidates should be advocating for this kind of planning policy.

Create an official way to report harassment on our streets and transport networks

Women in Urbanism Aotearoa conducted a survey where over 75% of respondents reported experiencing harassment while using our transport networks, footpaths and cycleways. We’ve found through hundreds of stories (which we have gradually been uploading to our Facebook) that have been sent to us over the last few months, that the harassment is much worse if you are from the LGBTQIA+ community, or if you’re a non-Pākehā woman. We need to address street harassment, but we can’t begin to do so until we have an easily accessible, formal way to report incidents in our city, and candidates should be talking about this issue, that doesn’t get anywhere enough coverage.

One of the stories told to Women in Urbanism Aotearoa (Photo: supplied)

Create a car-free CBD

Pedestrian streets are inclusive streets. When you open a street to people and close it to cars it feels and is safer. This is why you see more prams, wheelchairs, and people of all ages and abilities when you close off Queen Street in Auckland for a festival, for example. It we want to start designing equitable cities, then cars need to go and we need to open up our city centres to people. 

Slow our streets

Elderly, disabled, youth and low-income communities are more at risk from higher speeds. This is because they cross streets more slowly, are less likely to drive and are less likely to live in walkable neighbourhoods. 

Slow streets give people more choice on how they move. Levels of walking and cycling increase on lower speed streets. The most common barrier to cycling is fear of traffic speeds and volumes. Among ‘interested but concerned cyclists, quiet, residential street with traffic speeds of 30-40km/h gave the second highest level of comfort among various cycling facilities.   

This particularly benefits members of our communities who cannot, or prefer not to drive due to age, disabilities, low incomes or health and environmental concerns.

Children’s independent travel has reduced massively in the past 30 years due to the increase in traffic danger. Children in Aotearoa have lost the freedom of independent travel in part because of ridiculously high speeds on our roads and streets. And, because women are often the primary caregivers in Aotearoa, children’s low rates of independent travel tend to impact disadvantaged women more.

Build more toilets and public changing rooms

You’ve probably noticed that toilets are scarce in public areas in Aotearoa. And where there are toilets, they’re unhelpful for women. As well as more toilets, we need to make sure they actually take into account the needs of women, e.g. hooks for bags, a wide enough cubicle to take a toddler, and a wide enough cubicle so the sanitary bin doesn’t hang over the toilet seat.

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Also, if you’re a parent, you would have noticed change tables are mostly located in the women’s bathrooms, which is pretty unhelpful if you use the male’s toilet.

Give us well-lit underpasses (and more lighting in general)

We have an oversupply of creepy underpasses in all our cites. We should light them and make them safe and interesting, like they do in Cologne, Germany.

An illuminated tunnel in Cologne, Germany (Photo: supplied)

Women in Urbanism Aotearoa is a group of New Zealand wāhine fighting for justice and equity in urban planning and the way we design our cities. The group has a broad range of expertise, from transport planners, urban designers and architects to nurses and teachers. 


The Spinoff local election coverage is made possible thanks to The Spinoff Members. For more about becoming a member and supporting The Spinoff’s journalism click here.


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