Umeο: The city of the Swedish north is being redesigned with a focus on women


Umeο has a rich history of redesigning cities for women: Since 1978, a gender equality committee has been examining city administration policies from a gender perspective.

Umeο is the capital of Västerbotten County. It grows a few kilometers inside Gulf of Botany (of the northernmost bay of the Baltic Sea), with its center located on the banks of the river of the same name Umeälven. It is also home to the most important university in northern Sweden, with a wide range of subjects, such as Medicine, Biotechnology, Environment, Art, Social Sciences, etc.

At first glance, as it writes «Politico»there is nothing remarkable in Arstidernas park and its carousel-shaped blue steel gazebo, a popular hangout for students, who flock there after class in the evenings.

And yet, every detail of it was designed with a specific audience in mind: the young girls. The seats are adjusted to the average height of a teenager and the construction is located in a busy area of ​​the park, so that young women can feel safe and “see who is coming, who is there,” said Annika Dalén, Urban Strategy Officer for the gender equality of the city of Umeο.

These details came from the young women themselves, who participated in workshops to help design the project. In essence, this is a broader effort by urban planners to redesign Umeο to serve women residents, whose needs are often overlooked in urban planning and city policies.

«Our cities are designed by men, for themselves and their needs over time“, Said the Mary Dellenbaugh-Losse, urban researcher and consultant. Women urban planners «are still under-represented and are not often at the table of discussions and decision-making».

The effects of this imbalance, according to responsible for gender equality Dalen and Linda Gustafsson, are evident in cities everywhere: Illuminated underpasses and parking lots, where women are likely to feel insecure. Neighborhoods with public transportation that do not serve the women’s program, which usually includes more care-related responsibilities. «If we do not work for gender equality, we will not have a city where people want to liveSaid Gustafsson.

Umeο has a rich prehistory on redesigning cities for women: Since 1978, a gender equality committee has been examining city administration policies from a gender perspective.

«Gender equality is a key feature of the city’s long-term planning, in which it commits to creating the conditions for women and men to have the same power to shape society and their lives.“, Notes the Charlotta Westerlunda municipal councilor chairing the gender equality committee.

Umeο’s approach has attracted the attention of urban planners and policymakers across Europe and in 2019 the city was selected as a lead partner in Gendered Landscape network organized by URBACT, an EU-funded project. Earlier this month, it hosted the closing event of the program, which features six other cities. Umeo also wants to set an example and inspire other actors or cities to take action.

“Greener, fairer”

Designing urban spaces for women requires “critical thinking, creativity and imagination,” according to Gustafsson. These decisions will be the “key” to tackling the city’s next big challenge: Reducing emissions and adapting to climate change. «When it comes to climate change, we need to make changes immediatelySaid Gustafsson. «And when you make changes quickly, it is easy to forget the human perspective and gender equality».

Globally, women, especially in poorer households, are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. They also tend to stay out of decision making processes. In Umeο, administrators such as Gustafsson argue that measures to reduce emissions must take gender into account to ensure that women are not disproportionately affected.

Travel research and studies conducted in Umeο showed that men were much more likely than women to use their car in the city. A 2020 study commissioned by Sweden’s Innovation Service found that if men traveled like women, Sweden’s passenger emissions would be reduced by about 20%!

Umeο is committed to becoming climate neutral by 2030. “If we do not work together to tackle climate change and achieve gender equality, we will not succeed.Gustafsson added.


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