The following remarks were presented as part of panel discussion at the Women and the City event hosted by the Useful Knowledge Society at the AGH Annex, in Hamilton on June 6th 2017.
Good evening, thank you to the Useful Knowledge Society for inviting me to participate on this panel. As mentioned, I’m a Principal at Civicplan, which is a community planning and engagement firm here in Hamilton. Our work at Civicplan is primarily focused on engaging people in how to design and change their urban spaces. I have two main foci in my work. First, is around civic analytics – which is data about how people interact with urban spaces to better understand them. Second, is related to public engagement – more specifically participatory planning projects – such as participatory budgeting campaigns.
In thinking about how to address tonight’s panel discussion, I was looking for links between the three themes highlighted – Affordable housing, public transit, and public space.
From my perspective, the key link is public space itself. Public space can and SHOULD be broadly defined in our society – it can include everything from our sidewalk and streets, to our parks and greenspaces, to our libraries and schools. Additionally, public transit should be understood as public space, or at the very least a type of infrastructure that is rooted in public space (whether b/c of its stops, or use of public roadways) In terms of affordable housing – it is essential for effective models to be well connected to safe public space infrastructure – from sidewalks, transit, libraries, schools, parks etc.
Therefore, I’d like to focus my comments tonight around public spaces and women, and how to do it right, or not… and most importantly what we can learn to do differently in the future. In doing this, I want to speak about three Hamilton specific examples drawn from my own work at Civicplan.
1. Downtown Workers and Public Space: The first example I want to highlight is specific to downtown Hamilton and employment.
A few years ago we studied the demographics of downtown Hamilton employment – so let me begin with a few numbers for context.
- Approximately 10 percent of Hamilton’s employment is located downtown.
- The majority of which are in jobs government, finance, management, educational, and creative sectors.
- In terms of income, downtown jobs are higher paid, on average, than the averages for the city and province respectively.
- According to 2006 Stats Canada employment data, the vast majority of people who work downtown are women (63%).
Okay – so – what does this have to do with public space?
Well, considering that these women spend the majority of their waking hours downtown, it is fair to ask what public space is available to them to take a break, congregate, or breathe fresh air. In the heart of downtown there are two public spaces that provide interesting lessons about how to design and program space for women.
Jackson Square – As may you know, atop the Jackson Square mall at the corner of King and Main is a city-owned public space designed as a public urban park. The space is primarily concrete, above street level, with many dark corners and spaces. While another example of the failings of mid-Century urban renewal projects, this space is uninviting and NOT a space safe for women. It is rarely well populated or well used.
Gore Park – In contrast, kitty corner to Jackson Square is Gore Park. The heart of downtown Hamilton. The park itself, an impressive example of a Victorian urban space, has been, until recently, less well used. This changes in the summer months, though, with the introduction of the Gore Park Promenade, where the south side of the Gore is animated during the lunchtime hours with music and entertainment, a seating area, and food carts and trucks. The area transforms when the Promenade is underway with a broad cross-section of people who live and work in the core coming out to enjoy the Gore.
- It is open and inviting;
- you can sit and congregate;
- you can enjoy the entertainment and food or drink.
What these two examples tell us is that when you design and animate space in a way that is safe and inviting – when it is open and accessible – then it works for women, and by extension for everyone else.
2. Transportation and space – My second Hamilton example relates to our work on alternative transportation and public events. Specifically around Hamilton’s bikeshare system SoBi, and Supercrawl – Hamilton’s premiere free street party that takes place every September just in front of this building on James Street. I’ve had the opportunity to work with both of these Hamilton success stories to analyze their user and audience data.
SoBi – There are approximately 10,000 people who used SoBi in one way or another last year. At a minimum there is a 50/50 split between women and men. The service is used primarily for commuting, or getting to and from meetings and school, and there is a broad range of different income levels for the people who use it. SoBi makes use of our public roadways and cycle paths to house bike-share stations and for biking routes. It is one model of alternative transportation that is shifting traditional patterns of transportation in our city that is benefiting women.
Supercrawl – Has become a great success in its 7 years of operation. It is a regional draw for artists, performers and musicians, not to mention audiences. Since its beginnings, women have been the largest segment of Supercrawl’s audience. Perhaps because it is a free festival that shuts down the main thoroughfares of our city to cars for three days. It provides as diversity of programming from public art displays, vendors, to a family zone and a vast array of performers from Fred Penner to The Strombellas. It is designed to be open and pedestrian-friendly. There are eyes on the street – all the time. It is a creative way to populate public space that is open and welcoming to women, and therefore, like the Gore Promenade, it is welcoming to all.
3. Civic participation – My final example tonight relates to public space, via civic engagement. Over the last six years we’ve designed and managed participatory planning projects, like the Ward 1 participatory budgeting process, and Ward 2’s PlanLocal: Safe Street. In these processes, I’ve witnessed how women have not only participated but mobilized. In all cases, women have mobilized to design and promote projects, as well as marshal votes for projects that expand access to public spaces throughout their communities. This ranges from:
- improving children’s play structures at City Housing Hamilton buildings,
- to transforming spaces that were previously semi-private – such as school playgrounds – to publicly accessible spaces,
- or to creating safer access to existing public parks, schools and playgrounds.
These examples of civic engagement, when viewed individually are impressive, but when viewed collectively are inspiring – showing how women are incrementally changing our city and our spaces to make them more public for all of us.
There are two main lessons I hope you take away from these examples
- That when you design public space to be open, safe and accessible, with a mind to how women may use it, you will succeed in having all people use it.
- That women themselves, first in their own neighbourhoods and communities, are leaders in creating better and safer public spaces by mobilizing their communities to affect change.
Thank you for the time to share in this discussion and I look forward to any questions you may have.