Architecture Fringe - Feminist Urbanism

As part of the 2023 Architecture Fringe Gala attended a session on Feminist Urbanism – what is it and why now? Here are some of her thoughts on the session and how we can build a more equitable future.

Diagonal is a majority female owned, steward led company. Part of our remit is making sure our work considers wider social good, and we are committed to making urban spaces equitable and accessible, and understanding how and why that is important to making them safe, thriving and inclusive for everyone.

Feminist Urbanism - what is it and why now?

The event was a conversation lead by Daisy Narayanan MBE and Jude Barber who spoke to Councillor Holly Bruce of Glasgow City Council and Professor Suzanne Ewing of Women Make Cities Initiative from the University of Edinburgh.

It had a lot of audience participation, which was refreshing, interesting, and incredibly empowering. The audience was not as mixed as you might have hoped – there were few men in the audience, expected but disappointing..

If I think about the title of the event, I would have called it “Feminist Urbanism - we know what it is and its long overdue”, but working in urbanism, I have come to see that “feminism” still needs a soft introduction and many times, as in other discourse, people still consider it adversarial.

Councillor Bruce started the conversation strongly by saying that feminist urbanism is “not just about [women] existing in space it’s about thriving in space. We should start with what is strong vs what is wrong.”

I appreciated the focus on thriving rather than just existing, as I believe cities do have the power to push people into opportunities and improve their life outcomes (as well as do the opposite).

Focusing on strengths and what works seems the right approach but sometimes we have to unpack if what is working is also relying on some power imbalances that are overall negative and counter the cause. Specifically, in urbanism it’s important to ask - where does it work and how is that place the same or different to where you are, in the urban form but also in the demographics, the politics, the culture, etc?

The event raised the profile of an interesting project: ’A City Built on Baskets’ which is part of the Women Make Cities initiative, led by Freya Purcell, who is documenting and exploring how women street sellers in Edinburgh shaped the urban space in the 18th and 19th centuries. The project has highlighted many side benefits the street sellers brought to the city. For example, how street selling gave women the ability to earn a living without having to afford a shop but also, their mere presence sometimes acted as a contributing factor to others feeling safe. It’s not the same thing, but it made me think back on some initiatives taken a few years back in Mexico City to clean up the “vendedores ambulates” – street sellers – in the very famous plaza of Coyoacan, and the way the place has not been the same. Informal economies can be a huge part of the blood that runs through city veins. I am very much looking forward to following this research project as it continues.

After the event, talking to other attendees, it was clear that there are a lot of people keen to come together and discuss this type of urbanism. One that includes and re-thinks the way our cities operate, in the path towards imagining a better way, a more equitable way to evolve them

To find out more about how and why we created Diagonal and our social purpose look here.


August 2023