Gendered Innovations transform housing and neighborhood design

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Gendered Innovations transform housing and neighborhood design

Sustainable gender-aware housing and neighborhood design cuts down on transportation and improves the quality of people's lives

by Gender News staff on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 9:02am

Nearly 12 years ago, Vienna did something transformative: The city designated the district of Mariahilf as a "gender mainstreaming pilot district.”  Gender analysis would become integral to urban planning in this test area. The results? Housing units and community spaces designed to support child and elder care.

Pedestrian using wide sidwalk“Taking gender into account better serves the needs of women and men across the life span.  Adding a “gender dimension” to design of housing, parks, and transportation improves the quality of “everyday life,” explained Stanford Professor of History of Science Londa Schiebinger.

Vienna's urban planning is an example of what Schiebinger calls a "Gendered Innovation." According to Schiebinger, a Gendered Innovation harnesses the creative power of sex and gender analysis to discover new things. (Other examples of Gendered Innovations from Schiebinger's project include improvements in: heart disease in women, osteoporosis in men, public transportation, and water infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa.)

In the case of Vienna’s urban planning, integrating gender analysis into the architectural design and urban planning processes ensured that buildings and cities serve the needs of all inhabitants. This approach includes special consideration for women and men of different ages, employment patterns, socioeconomic status, and care-giving obligations.

Housing to support care work

Traditional urban design tends to separate living spaces and commercial spaces into separate zones, which results in large distances between homes, markets, schools, and other urban spaces. Often, the distance between these spaces is burdensome for people combining employment with care responsibilities. In response, urban designers created housing and neighborhoods with on-site child-care and elder-care facilities, shops for basic everyday needs, and often primary-care medical facilities.

Vienna’s new housing development named "Frauen-Werk-Stadt I," or FWS-I, was designed with gender in mind.

Image of housing with cantilevered kitchens

Created by architect Franziska Ullmann, FWS-I has 359 housing units with childcare facilities to minimize the distance parents travel to take their children to daycare. The housing complex supports childcare by enabling line-of-sight contact for parents watching children between interior work spaces (such as kitchens) and outdoor recreational areas, and by providing well-lit ground-level storage for baby strollers, bikes, and other bulky items. FWS-1 also includes commercial space for shops within the housing block, medical facilities, and a police station

Another housing project in Vienna called "In der Wiesen Generation Housing" has mixed complexes with apartments for the elderly. By incorporating different apartments of different cost in a single complex, families have the option of having elderly parents living in the same building but in not their own apartments. As residents become older they can, if needed, pay for extra assistance in their own home. The entire building is accessible for the handicapped. Low windowsills allow those in wheelchairs or beds to have views into green spaces.

Vienna’s example is being adopted by other European cities. The Central European Urban Spaces project, supported by the European Union’s Regional Development Fund, is using gender analysis to improve the urban environments of eight Central European countries: Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Germany, and Italy.  Similarly, the British Royal Town Planning Institute has created a toolkit to promote gender analysis in information gathering and planning.

The next step, says Schiebinger, is moving beyond pilot projects toward fully integrating gender analysis into planning and budgeting at the municipal, regional, and national, and regional levels.

Uncovering gender bias

Gender bias, says Schiebinger, is built into society, architecture, and urban planning. “It is crucially important to identify gender bias in science and technology,” she said. “The operative question is how can we harness the creative power of gender analysis to expand knowledge and spark innovation?” Schiebinger, who served as Clayman Institute Director from 2004 to 2010, identifies three strategic approaches taken by governments, universities, and researchers themselves to gender equality in science and technology over the past several decades

“It is crucially important to identify gender bias in science and technology. The operative question is how can we harness the creative power of gender analysis to expand knowledge and spark innovation?”

First is an attempt to “fix the number of women”— by recruiting more women into male-dominated fields such as politics, science, or technology.  The second approach is to reduce gender bias in institutions, or “fix the institutions.” It’s such subtle gender bias that leads teachers to write better recommendation letters for men than for women.

Schiebinger’s third approach is Gendered Innovations in research, or “fix the knowledge.” This approach is especially important for the future of STEM fields, explains Schiebinger—ranging from Vienna's urban engineering to medical research around heart disease, stem cells, the genetics of sex determination, or assistive technologies for the elderly.

A Clayman Institute start-up, Gendered Innovations launched in 2009 and developeded over the next four years through seven international, interdisciplinary workshops with financial backing from the European Commission, the National Science Foundation, and Stanford. The research framework Gendered Innovations developed has garnered attention and is expanding. International organizations and thought leaders are watching closely, adopting Gendered Innovations to transform research and shape policy.

“When we consider gender while designing communities, outcomes simply improve,” Schiebinger said. “The Vienna case is another example of why it’s crucially important to integrate gender analysis into the curricula at Stanford’s Schools of Engineering and Design—the results speak for themselves. We can’t afford to ignore such opportunities”  

Image sources: Sidewalk photo from E. Kail & E. Irschik, E., "Strategies for Action in Neighbourhood Mobility Design in Vienna - Gender Mainstreaming Pilot District Mariahilf," German Journal of Urban Studies, 46 (2) (2007). FWS-I floorplan from Magistrat der Stadt Wien, Alltags- und Frauengerechter Wohnbau, FWS-I photo from E. Irschik & E. Kail, E. (2013). "Vienna: Progress towards a Fair Shared City," in Sánchez de Madariaga, I., & Roberts, M. (Eds.), Fair Shared Cities: The Impact of Gender Planning in Europe (London: Ashgate, 2013).
L Schiebinger
Londa Schiebinger
John L. Hinds Professor of History of Science, Stanford University. Director, EU/US Gendered Innovations in Science, Health & Medicine, and Engineering Project

Londa Schiebinger is the John L. Hinds Professor of History of Science at Stanford University and the Director of the Gendered Innovations project. She was the Barbara D. Finberg Director of the Clayman Institute from 2004 to 2010.  Schiebinger is author of numerous publications and has received numerous prizes and awards, including the Alexander von Humboldt Research Prize and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.