Housing and Neighborhood Design: Analyzing Gender

The Challenge

Integrating gender analysis into architectural design and urban planning processes can ensure that buildings and cities serve well the needs of all inhabitants: women and men of different ages, with different family configurations, employment patterns, socioeconomic status and burdens of caring labor (Sánchez de Madariaga et al., 2013).

Method: Analyzing Gender

Analyzing gender in architectural and urban design can contribute to constructing housing and neighborhoods that better address people’s everyday needs, by fully integrating caring issues—caring for children, the elderly, and disabled—into research design.

Gendered Innovations:

  1. Integrating gender expertise into housing and neighborhood design and evaluation is well underway, especially in Europe, and will improve living conditions for its residents, particularly parents, children, and the elderly.
  2. Gender-aware housing and neighborhood design will improve pedestrian mobility and use of space for women and men of different ages, care duties, and physical abilities.

The Challenge
Gendered Innovation 1: Integrating Gender expertise into housing and neighborhood design and evaluation
Method: Rethinking Priorities and Outcomes
Gendered Innovation 2: Gender-aware housing and neighborhood design
Method: Analyzing Gender
Conclusions and Next Steps

The Challenge

Planners, architects, and researchers from various fields have shown that gender roles and divisions of labor result in different needs with respect to built environments. These differences appear at various scales—individual buildings, neighborhoods, cities, and regions—and in the different domains of city building, such as housing, public facilities, transportation, streets and open space, employment and retail space (Sánchez de Madariaga, 2004). Gender analysis of space has identified the ways in which urban environments may enforce gender norms and fail to serve women and men equally (Spain, 2002; Hayden, 2005). Widely unrecognized gender assumptions in architecture and planning contribute to unequal access to urban spaces. While this Case Study addresses urban design in high-income countries, issues, such as safety in public space, or access to water, energy, transportation, and basic sanitation, become high priority in developing countries (Jarvis, 2009; Reeves et al., 2012).

Gendered Innovation 1: Integrating Gender Expertise into Housing and Neighborhood Design and Evaluation

In 2009 and 2010, Vienna was rated as one of the cities with the “highest quality of living in the world” (Irschik et al., 2013). Gender analysis contributed to this excellence: Over the past two decades, gender expertise has become fully integrated into Vienna’s urban planning (Booth et al., 2001):

  • 1991 Two Viennese urban planners described the gendered aspects of urban design in an exhibition, “Who Owns Public Space–Women’s Daily Life in the City.”
  • 1992 The Vienna City Council established the Women’s Office.
  • 1998 The City Planning Bureau established the Co-ordination Office for Planning and Construction Geared to the Requirements of Daily Life and the Specific Needs of Women.
  • 2002 Vienna designated Mariahilf, Vienna’s 6th district, a gender mainstreaming “pilot district,” a test area where gender analysis became an integral part of urban planning (Bauer, 2009; Kail et al., 2006 & 2007).
  • 2010 Gender experts were moved from the Coordination Office directly into groups for “Urban Planning, Public Works and Building Construction.” This final step brought gender experts “in-house,” making them part of the core decision-making in the City of Vienna.

Method: Rethinking Priorities and Outcomes

The European Union prioritized gender mainstreaming in 1996 and funded sixty networked projects in efforts to develop gender analysis for urban planning (Horelli et al., 2000; Roberts, 2013). Policy makers and funders that make gender analysis a requirement for funding potentially provide a platform for integrating gender-specific criteria into housing and neighbourhood planning.

Method: Analyzing Gender

The relationship between place, space, and gender is complex and involves a number of steps:

  1. Evaluating past urban design practices: Researchers recognized that urban design typically lacked a gender perspective, and was “blind” to differences between groups—women and men, people using different forms of transport and performing different kinds of work, etc. For example, design often focused on the needs of formally-employed persons who “inhabit the environment as consumers […] expecting residential areas to fulfill only one function and judging them by their recreational and leisure value.” This overlooks the needs of women and men who perform housework, child- and eldercare, etc. as well as the needs of “children, adolescents, and the elderly” (MOST-I, 2003; Ullmann, 2013).
  2. Mainstreaming gender analysis into design (as discussed in Gendered Innovation 1 above).
  3. Analyzing users and services: Designers may look at how various populations use space in relation to paid work, home life and work, social relations, cultural practices, and leisure. Designers may also examine the needs of various populations living in housing units and the needs of the people who service those units, such as cleaners and maintenance people.
  4. Obtaining user input: Using participatory research techniques, designers may ask users about their daily lived experience. Researchers may use a variety of methods, such as surveys, interviews, or observation.
  5. Evaluation and planning (as discussed in Gendered Innovations 1 above).

Vienna’s example is being adopted by other European cities (Borbíró, 2011). This case study highlights only a few of the designs globally that have mainstreamed gender analysis into urban design and evaluation:

  1. At the regional level, the Central European Urban Spaces (UrbSpace) project, supported by the EU’s Regional Development Fund, aims to improve the urban environments of eight Central European countries (Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Germany, and Italy) though renovations of open urban spaces, such as public parks and squares (Rebstock et al., 2011). UrbSpace uses a strategy of integrating the “gender perspective into every stage of the policy process – design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. (Scioneri et al., 2009). To this end, gender analysis is additionally used as a tool to contribute to other goals: environmental sustainability, public participation in planning, security of urban spaces, and accessibility (Stiles, 2010). For a summary of aspects to consider, see the Urban Planning & Design Checklist.
  2. At the national level, the British Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has created a toolkit to promote gender mainstreaming (Greed, 2005 & 2006). The toolkit supports both information-gathering (e.g., collection of sex-disaggregated data regarding housing affordability, transportation modes, and priorities) and planning (e.g., creating development projects which support diverse users) (RTPI, 2007; Reeves, 2003 & 2005).

Gender analysis has become an important part of the planning stage, and gender budgeting is used to assess progress (Scioneri et al., 2009).

Gendered Innovation 2: Gender-Aware Housing and Neighborhood Design

Urban designers applying gender analysis have undertaken projects that coordinate design for housing, parks, and transportation to improve the quality of “everyday life.” Innovations in this field include:

  1. Housing to Support Child- and Eldercare: Designers recognized that traditional urban design separated living spaces and commercial spaces into separate zones, resulting in large distances between homes, markets, schools, etc. These distances placed significant stress on people combining employment with care responsibilities (Sánchez de Madariaga, 2013). In addition, such design practices often make cars the most practical means of transportation, creating environmental challenges (Blumenberg, 2004)—see Case Study: Climate Change. In response, urban designers have created housing and neighborhoods with on-site child- and elderly-care facilities, shops for basic everyday needs, and often primary-care medical facilities.

    Vienna’s Frauen-Werk-Stadt I (FWS-I), created by architect and professor Franziska Ullmann, includes 359 housing units with childcare facilities in order to minimize the distance parents travel to take their children to daycare. This supports working parents as well as the environment by minimizing travel.

    Franziska Ullmann Architect housing design plan

    FWS-I also supports childcare by enabling line-of-sight contact for parents watching children between interior work spaces (such as kitchens) and recreational areas, and by providing well-lit ground-level storage rooms for baby carriages , bikes, and other bulky items (Ullmann, 2013)—see below.

    images from Magistrat der Stadt Wien and Irschik, cantilevered kitchens FWS-1 also includes commercial space for shops within the housing block, medical facilities, and a police station. Meeting daily needs within the immediate vicinity of the apartments further decreases the transportation burden for caregivers (MOST-I, 2003). This is part of an overarching goal to design for the “scale of everyday life” (Ruiz Sánchez, 2013).

    Transportation design is also key to elder-and childcare. In Vienna, studies report that house-husbands and –wives, the elderly, and children make most trips on foot (Irschik, 2013). Street planning in Vienna’s Gender Mainstreaming Pilot District widened sidewalks to enhance the mobility of people pushing prams, using wheelchairs, and transporting wide loads, and better signed the locations of crossings to better respond to pedestrian and movement (Schicker, 2008).

    Vienna sidewalks support pedestrians

    Móstoles Sur, a suburb of Madrid, is also designed to enhanced pedestrian access to public squares and a Metro station with the goal of supporting men and women of “different ages, different jobs and demands, [and] [...] different family structures,” and “with and without cars” (Ruiz Sánchez, 2013).

  2. Housing across the Life Course

    Urban designers have worked to design cities which better serve people across the life course. Vienna’s Frauen-Werk-Stadt II (FWS-II) includes playrooms for young children, community rooms for teens, and meeting points for the elderly (Irschik, 2013). FWS-II offers a “combination of different types of flats” to support “intergenerational living.” One-room “mini-lofts” are tailored to the needs of young people (“starters”) and feature design innovations to make the best use of limited space—see below.

    mini loft by Margherita Spillutini

    FWSII and In der Wiesen Generation Housing (another of Ullmann’s project in Vienna) are designed as mixed complexes that also contains apartments for the elderly. Demographic changes—most notably population aging—present major challenges in urban design (Burton et al., 2006). Sex ratio differs by age cohort, and the majority of the elderly are women, especially at the oldest ages (Birch, 2011). 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, where required, pay for extra assistance in their own home. The entire building is accessible for the handicapped. Low window sills allow those in wheelchairs or beds to have views into green spaces and, when desired, to be part of everyday activities (Ullmann, 2013). In der Wiesen also mixes residential space with a variety of office space, shops, and services, including medical.

Conclusions and Next Steps

The example of Vienna presented in this case study highlights how integrating gender expertise into city planning led to pilot projects, such as Frauen-Werk-Stadt I & II and In der Wiesen Generation Housing that succeeded in incorporating everyday living and caring tasks into the specific housing and neighborhood projects. These projects can serve as a model for larger-scale planning.

A next step will involve moving beyond pilot projects toward fully integrating gender analysis into planning and budgeting at the municipal, regional, and national, and regional levels. Further research is also needed to understand how urban structures interact with gender relations, and how these differ across time and space.

Works Cited

  • Bauer, U.(2009). Gender Mainstreaming in Vienna: How the Gender Perspective Can Raise the Quality of Life in a Big City. Women and Gender Research, 18 (3-4), 64-72.
  • Birch, E. (2011). Design of Healthy Cities for Women. In Meleis, A., Birch, E., 7 Wachter, S. (Eds.), Women’s Health and the World’s Cities, pp. 73-92. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania University Press.
  • Blumenberg, E. (2004). En-Gendering Effective Planning: Spatial Mismatch, Low-Income Women, and Transportation Policy. Journal of the American Planning Association, 70 (3), 269-281.
  • Booth, C., & Gilroy, R. (2001). Gender-Aware Approaches to Local and Regional Development: Better-Practice Lessons from across Europe. Town Planning Review, 72 (2), 217-242.
  • Borbíró, F. (2011). “Dynamics of Gender Equality Institutions in Vienna: The Potential of a Feminist Neo-Institutionalist Explanation.” Paper Presented at the Sixth Annual European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) Conference, Reykjavik.
  • Burton, E., & Mitchell, L. (2006). Inclusive Urban Design: Streets for Life. Oxford: Elsevier Architectural Press.
  • Greed, C. (2005). Making the Divided City Whole: Mainstreaming Gender into Planning in the United Kingdom. Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie, 97 (3), 267-280.
  • Greed, C. (2006). Institutional and Conceptual Barriers to the Adoption of Gender Mainstreaming Within Spatial Planning Departments in England. Planning Theory and Practice, 7(2), 179-197.
  • Hayden, D. (2005). What Would A Non-Sexist City Be Like? Speculations on Housing, Urban Design, and Human Work. In Fainstein, S., & Servon, L. (Eds.), Gender and Planning: A Reader, pp. 47-64. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
  • Horelli, L., Booth, C. and Gilroy, R. (2000). The EuroFEM Toolkit for Mobilising Women into Local and Regional Development, Revised version. Helsinki: Helsinki University of Technology.
  • 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, pp. 292-329. Ashgate, London.
  • Jarvis, H. and Kantor, P. (2009) Cities and Gender. London: Routledge.
  • Kail, E., & Prinz, C. (2006). Gender Mainstreaming (GM) Pilot District. Vienna: City of Vienna Municipal Directorate, City Planner’s Office.
  • Kail, E., & Irschik, E. (2007). Strategies for Action in Neighbourhood Mobility Design in Vienna - Gender Mainstreaming Pilot District Mariahilf. German Journal of Urban Studies, 46 (2).
  • Magistrat der Stadt Wien. (2012). Alltags- und Frauengerechter Wohnbau. www.wien.gv.at/stadtentwicklung/alltagundfrauen/wohnbau.html
  • MOST-I: Management of Social Transformations Phase I (2003). Frauen-Werk-Stadt - A Housing Project by and for Women in Vienna, Austria. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) MOST Clearing House Best Practices Database. www.unesco.org/most/westeu19.htm
  • Rebstock, M., Berding, J., Gather, M., Hudekova, Z., & Paulikova, M. (2011). Urban Spaces – Enhancing the Attractiveness and Quality of the Urban Environment: Work Package 5, Action 5.1.3, Methodology Plan for Good Planning and Designing of Urban Open Spaces. Erfurt: University of Applied Sciences, 17.
  • Reeves, D., Parfitt, B., & Archer, C. (2012). Gender and Urban Planning: Issues and Trends. Nairobi: United Nations Human Settlements Programme.
  • Reeves, D. (2003). Gender Equality and Plan Making: The Gender Mainstreaming Toolkit. London: Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).
  • Reeves, D. (2005). Planning for Diversity: Policy and Planning in a World of Difference. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Roberts, M. (2013). Introduction: Concepts, Themes, and Issues in a Gendered Approach to Planning. In Sánchez de Madariaga, I., & Roberts, M. (Eds.), Fair Shared Cities: The Impact of Gender Planning in Europe, pp. 1-18. Ashgate, London.
  • Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). (2007). Gender and Spatial Planning: RTPI Good Practice Note Seven. London: RTPI.
  • RTPI. (2007). Gender and Spatial Planning: Good Practice Note 7. London: Royal Town Planning Institute.
  • Ruiz Sánchez, J. (2013). Planning Urban Complexity at the Scale of Everyday Life: Móstoles Sur, a New Quarter in Metropolitan Madrid. In Sánchez de Madariaga, I., & Roberts, M. (Eds.), Fair Shared Cities: The Impact of Gender Planning in Europe, pp. 402-414. Ashgate: London.
  • Sánchez de Madariaga, Inés (2004). Urbanismo con perspectiva de género, Fondo Social Europeo- Junta de Andalucía, Sevilla.
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  • Scioneri, V., & Abluton, S. (2009). Urban Spaces – Enhancing the Attractiveness and Quality of the Urban Environment: Sub-Activity 3.2.3, Gender Aspects. Cuneo: Lamoro Agenziadi Sviluppo.
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  • Ullmann, F. (2013). Choreography of Life: Two Pilot Projects of Social Housing in Vienna. In Sánchez de Madariaga, I., & Roberts, M. (Eds.), Fair Shared Cities: The Impact of Gender Planning in Europe, pp. 415-433. Ashgate, London-New York.

Housing and Neighborhood Design: Analyzing Gender In a Nutshell

Traditionally, cities have separated living and commercial spaces, resulting in large distances between home, daycare, shops, schools, and medical care. In such cities cars often become the preferred means of transportation, creating serious problems for the environment.

Gendered Innovation:

The gendered innovation in this case study is designing urban neighborhoods that integrate housing, childcare, elder care, shops for everyday needs, and basic medical care.

Vienna has been rated one of the cities with the "highest quality of living in the world." The image shows architect Franziska Ullmann's innovative urban neighborhood with 359 housing units (green).

Franziska Ullmann Architect housing design plan

Key characteristics:

  1. Childcare facilities (orange) are built into the housing block to minimize the distance parents travel to daycare. This supports working parents and the environment by minimizing travel.
  2. Basic shops (also orange) are built into the housing block. Daily needs can be met within the immediate vicinity of the apartment, further decreasing the need for transportation. This housing block also includes a doctor’s office.
  3. Cantilevered windows allow parents to watch children playing outdoors. These windows are also featured in apartments for the elderly so that they can enjoy community life.

A second project, also in Vienna, considers urban design across the life course—or across generations. The housing complex is designed to contain different of types of apartments—some for the very young who are just starting out, others for families, and others for the elderly. By incorporating different apartments at different cost points in a single complex, families have the option of having elderly parents living in the same building but not in their own apartments.