To make women feel a little safer in the Stockholm suburb of Husby, local officials will redesign part of its center.
More than one-third of women report feeling unsafe walking alone at night in the US, compared to just 11% of men, according to a recent Gallup poll. And 35% of the poll’s female respondents in Sweden said they do not feel secure walking outside after sunset.
A Swedish housing company, called Svenska Bostäder, is leading the plan, which includes more street lighting, especially near Husby’s subway station entrance. A bar and café, which Nurcan Gültekin, a coordinator from Svenska Bostäder, says is frequented mostly by men, will also be moved. A new, undetermined business will replace it.
Gültekin says the goal of the redesign is to make Husby’s streets “more feminist.” He explains that means making Husby’s center welcoming to everyone, especially women.
“We hope that the changes will help making Husby a more harmonic place for both men and women,” Gültekin tells Business Insider.
The plan has been in the works since 2009, when the company started talking with local female residents. Some women said they do not want to sit outside at the café, which sits next to the dimly lit subway station, because they often receive unwanted attention from men. The women added that there isn’t a natural meeting place for non-male residents in the center.
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“The women of Husby told us that they felt unsafe,” Gültekin says. “They expressed a feeling of being controlled in the center of Husby and around the subway station.”
As many other writers have pointed out, the fields of architecture and urban planning are heavily male-dominated. This can lead to planning decisions in which female pedestrians are not top of mind, like omitting toddler playgrounds or limiting the number of street lights. In the 1980 essay “What Would a Non-sexist City Be Like?,” American urbanist Dolores Hayden called for city centers that would “transcend traditional definitions of home, neighborhood, city, and workplace.”
In the early 1990s, Vienna has practiced a public policy concept that assesses implications for men and women for any planned action, called gender mainstreaming. As Citylab notes, this means that city officials make laws that aim to provide public resources to men and women equally.
One of Vienna’s first gender mainstreaming projects was an apartment complex designed for and by women in 1993. Surveys at the time found that Austrian women spend more time per day on household chores and childcare than men (though, that’s still true today). The architects therefore those to install grassy courtyards where parents and children can spend time outside without straying too far. The complex also has an on-site kindergarten, pharmacy, and doctor’s office, and is located close to public transit.
Another mainstreaming project called for additional lighting and widened sidewalks near a Vienna metro station in 2000, similar to the forthcoming plan in Husby. Svenska Bostäder, a company owned by the Stockholm government, manages tens of thousands of residential and commercial properties in and near the city. Architects and urban planners from the Royal Institute of Technology and local officials will also work with the Svenska Bostäder team on the redesign. There’s no exact timeline on when it will be complete.
Though only a few small changes are moving forward right now, Gültekin says the plan serves as a starting point for feminist urban planning in Sweden.
“The overall plan is to always have a gender perspective on planning,” he says.