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Bike Talk: Equality And The Urban Landscape

Can the urban city be a space where we can practice equality? Can we ever truly achieve equality when women and men currently appropriate urban spaces unequally? Recent studies have shown that there's a clear link between gender inequality and the use of the city infrastructure, like bicycle lanes. A study conducted in the city of Rennes, showed that certainly, urban spaces are ultimately made by and for, men. This study is certainly not the example of all cities, however, there are plenty of cities in the U.S. that can certainly relate to the issues of gender inequality in infrastructure use.

In this case, the city of Rennes reveals that the role of women in society informs the exclusivity of women in public funding in developing amenities. Although women have made strides in advocacy, the study provides an example of decision making of land use by planners and developers where sums of the city resources went into voting on the building construction of a football stadium to host 60,000 people. The question here is where do women come into these amenities and how often are expenditures dedicated to the development of activities largely performed by women?

Perhaps these decisions are based on gender perceptions and stereotypes. When analyzing the behavior of men and women in the use of urban spaces, such as cycling, walking, or exercising, women perceived risk in the environment differently, thus choosing more secure areas and quieter journeys. In addition, areas women use most where generally those tied to gender stereotypes, the children's play-yard, gardens, benches, anywhere where they could be seen out of danger. Between the decision making of public expenditures and land use, it seems the city is certainly a mechanism of inequality.

Could this mean that cycling accessibility may play into the role in gender equality in the city landscape? Perhaps. Women still make three quarters of trips to shop and transport children. They are three times more on the road than men. Wouldn't planning the use of the city landscapes be just as important to them? Wouldn't women's use of urban landscapes be a tool in creating a city that is equal for all to use?

As long as cities do not answer the demands of safe bike infrastructure for all practical uses, women will continue to be excluded form the urban landscape, and biking cannot be claimed as an egalitarian tool for the city. We tend to forget that "the new woman" emerged from the fray of Victorian limitations on a bike. By allowing women the feeling of freedom, mobility and independence, the bicycle helped to transform social relations between the sexes. Although the bike may have freed women from the limitations of fashion and the myths of women’s fragility, perhaps the bike still has a long way to go in freeing the limitations of women in the use of the urban landscape.

1 comment

Lisa RS said...

I agree. Gender stereotyping will be quite difficult to take away. I mean, that's just part of human nature. But that's not supposed to stop us from doing what we want and have to do. Co-existence on the road can still be reached.

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