More than two billion women around the world live in cities. Most were planned by men. A new book supports more female perspectives in urban planning.
“Find the mistake” is written under the photo of a group of happy men gathered around a table in the countryside. It is the group photo of a house completion ceremony in Krefeld, which was later featured in the trade magazine “Bauwelt”.
The strange thing about this photograph from 1930: there is an arm protruding from the side of the photo that does not belong to any of the gentlemen. Architect Marlene Moeschke-Poelzig was simply cut off afterwards, says Katja Schechtner.
Male dominated bodies
The urbanity researcher, who teaches in Vienna, knows many examples of urban planners and architects who have been expelled from the public eye. Not only in the past but also in the present.
In 2012, for example, the famous Pritzker Prize went to Chinese architect Wang Shu: “A man who has worked all his life with his partner Lu Wenyu and with her founded the Amateur Architecture Studio. But he did not receive the award. ”
According to Katja Schechtner, many juries and committees in the field of architecture and urban planning are still dominated by men.
Building women, then and now
The book “Women. Building. City” wants to create a counterpoint and make outstanding architects visible all over the world, in current discussions and historical portraits.
“We want to show that women have shaped the city since 1850,” says Katja Schechtner, referring to the forgotten achievements of civil engineer Emily Warren Roebling.
He completed the Brooklyn Bridge that his father-in-law had designed. After his untimely death in 1869, he took the lead in the construction of this extraordinary suspension bridge structure.
Urban planning thrives on diversity
For a long time it was difficult for women to get a chance in architecture – this becomes clear in this book. And in the field of urban planning, they are still underrepresented in leading positions, says Katja Schechtner.
She is convinced: “If we entrust the design of urban spaces to women, a special quality of public space can arise that is better for everyone”.
Of course, women do not plan any differently than men for biological reasons. But it is the same as all discussions of diversity: “Every urban development draws on personal experience and is different for women,” says Katja Schechtner.
Quality of life instead of greater efficiency
An example from the 1960s: Urban researcher Jane Jacobs managed to prevent the construction of a giant freeway right in downtown New York. The diversity of neighborhoods and the needs of different population groups were more important to her than the idea of getting to work as quickly as possible in a car.
Although the living environments of men and women are convergent: Katja Schechtner notes that women mayors often focus more on improving the quality of life than on increasing efficiency in urban planning.
In Paris, Anne Hidalgo closed the city center motorway: where traffic roared along the Seine, people are now walking, playing and jogging: a meeting place has been created in the middle of the big city.
A book that broadens the vision of urban change and shows the benefits that equality can bring to urban planning.
Wojciech Czaja, Katja Schechtner: «Women build cities. The city through a female lens. “Birkhauser Verlag, 2021.