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Viewpoint: Masterplanning must be for everyone

The concept of inclusive masterplanning is not new, but it is something that is often overlooked, despite being a vital part of sustainable design.

In early instances of masterplanning, urban designers tended to be men; women’s needs, perceptions of safety, and accessibility were not specifically taken into account.

While the gender balance in the profession is growing more equal, the result is that we have inherited gendered spaces which in some cases exclude rather than include women.

This is a topic brought to the fore only relatively recently by designers such as Clara Greed, who have lobbied to have a broader range of views considered when designing places.

The first step to user-focused urban planning is for designers to understand how everyone perceives the built environment.

For example, in certain public spaces – such as social housing areas, or enclosed pathways – women tend to feel less safe and more vulnerable when with small children. And users of public transport (often parents with prams) place a greater priority on good bus routes to shops, service facilities and work or school. As factors like climate change and population trends impact on the physical and social landscapes, these issues will become increasingly significant for masterplanning.

Good inclusive masterplanning requires proper, inclusive public participation, consultation and engagement. As Baroness Margaret Ford, chair of the Olympic Park Legacy Company says, there is no substitute for “shoe leather”; going out and asking local people what they want.

“Masterplanning is about making places. Good masterplanning is about making great places; places that still work well as the world and communities change”

To increase our understanding of varying needs, we are researching the effect of social and demographic background on our perception and experience of the built physical environment.

This approach was recently applied to General Osório, a new subway station serving 80,000 daily passengers in Ipanema, Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Social interaction between residents living in the formal Ipanema suburb and the informal favela is being transformed through improved connectivity.

Subsequent research found that the most significant changes for the community were accessibility to surrounding parks, landmarks and beaches, to better work opportunities, and to local services. Overall, people felt the area was a good place to live.

The favela community particularly benefited. Poverty levels, the informal and isolated layout of public spaces and male-dominated nature of the favela had contributed to a drug and gang culture. Increased accessibility to Ipanema’s formal spaces, for work, education and health services was gradually transforming their experience of the environment. Social areas within the favela – where cafes served local food – were increasingly popular destinations.

Masterplanning is about making places.  Good masterplanning is about making great places; places that still work well as the world and communities change. 

Inclusive masterplanning reflects the need for these places to be designed with the input of all users involved. Designs need to consider accessibility, to be welcoming and useful to the entire community. This is important if we want communities to own, maintain and celebrate their shared spaces.

  • Suzanna Pembroke is a cultural heritage consultant with Arup and is presenting research on Gender in Urban Design today, at the House of Lords, at a networking event hosted by Baroness Margaret Ford and supported by NCE.

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