REBUILDING Malaga on Community Power

Malaga has written an article in the URBACT Newsletter n°50 (July 2014).

“Each city is like a different world,” says Fernando Barreiro, Lead Expert of the USER network, “but there are many things they can learn from each other”. Understanding this was precisely what made the active Spanish city of Malaga join a network with other cities across Europe, aiming to share knowledge and experience on how to engage citizens in the caretaking of their surroundings and, together with other stakeholders, the creation of better public spaces.

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Integration of gender issues in the design of public spaces

This post is a summary of the report Ville HQE – Haute Qualité Égalitaire from the Metropolitan citizen council of Bordeaux urban community (C2D). From 2012 to 2014, this organisation has driven a study about the integration of gender issues into public spaces, facilities and services design and planning.


“Modulator”, reference source:

The assumption is that men and women do not benefit from the same resources offered by the city, especially when it comes to access to public spaces and facilities. These places are not always adapted to women, and more generally to persons who do not meet the architecture and urban planning standard user. In 1945, Le Corbusier has defined this user “Modulator”: a man 1.83 meter-tall and physically well-maintained (result of an androcentric practice).

The objective of C2D’s study is then to improve the professional culture of persons in charge of designing cities, spaces, services and public facilities (architects, urban planners, landscapers, etc.) but also decision-makers (elected representatives, developers, social landlords, etc.). In consequence, C2D has worked on the design and implementation of a participatory and gender method to diagnosis public spaces: “Equality High Quality” approach (Démarche HQE – Haute Qualité Egalitaire in French).

The main goal of C2D’s approach is to propose a more equalitarian method in the conception and planning of public spaces and facilities based on 4 basic principles:

  • inhabitants and users’ involvement,
  • dividing out in single-sex working groups, so that women can express freely,
  • mixed restitution of works to compare statements of both sex,
  • multidisciplinary supervision.

The “Equality High Quality” approach is built in 3 steps:

  1. Territorial diagnosis (mapping, exploratory walk), “the real-life space”
  2. Creative workshop of programming, “the dreamed space”
  3. Debate between all stakeholders: decision-makers, project managers and citizens/users (discussions based on materials collected during steps 1 and 2), “the planned space”

In order to test this participative and gendered method within the framework of the development of a public space, C2D has selected a pilot site in Mérignac (next to Bordeaux). The Jean Jaurès square was chosen because Bordeaux urban community’s road department wanted to test new way of planning.

Jean Jaurès square

Aerial view of Jean Jaurès square

Step 1: “the real-life space”

“Eating sandwiches in front of petanque players, no!”

In a first stage, 30 volunteers (15 men and 15 women) were asked to map separately their habitual itineraries. As they do not have the same motives to move, they do not follow the same routes. It appeared that both, men and women, when walking, bypass consistently Jean Jaurès square. There are several reasons for this, and mainly for women. The discomfort of walking there (mud and puddles of petanque strip, recurring obstacles – strip’s edges, boules, etc.) and the permanent presence of bowlers are among the elements that persuade them to bypass the square. This is because they may wear skirts or heels, because they are regularly “encumbered” with strollers, accompanied by young children or because they are afraid to cross an area considered masculine. Regarding male overrepresentation in this public space, we can note that petanque is a practice generating little mixity. There is another substantial difference between men and women itineraries: only men are using bikes to move around.

Habitual initerariesIn a second stage, participants have realised in single-sex working groups a map locating areas of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. While women characterise elements for everyday use and specific space (benches, toilets, wheels, mud, corners, etc.), the speech of men is more about the overall atmosphere (greenery, life, desire to wander). These elements of analysis tend to confirm that men have a freer use of the city, less constrained, and therefore emit general considerations. Conversely, women would be for a very specific motive in the public space. So they would have a more explicitly functional and utilitarian understanding of the resources the public space offers.

(Dys)satisfaction areasStep 2: “the dreamed space”

The aim of this session was to collect, via a scrapbooking workshop, participants’ expectations regarding the square replanning. In order to allow them to express freely, they had at their disposal background maps, many pictures as well as pencils to draw. Men and women were once again separated in different groups.

Scrapbooking 1

Men’s scrapbooking

Scrapbooking 2

Women’s scrapbooking

After one hour of reflection, each group has presented its work. It appeared that 3 propositions were shared: a pacified traffic, secure and easier pedestrian paths, meeting spaces with circular benches. Women seemed more open to their own life experiences and their own wills and needs (phone booth, public lighting, drinking water, etc.). It is also interesting to note that women were concerned about the children. However they did not make proposals for their male counterparts. Conversely, men tended to see things according to the needs of others. Thus, they want the “circular benches for women and children”, playgrounds and a carousel for younger. Would men think like planners? If this hypothesis was confirmed, we could then deduce that men in the context of this foresight exercise, have behaving in benevolent protector of women and children, pater familias. If the posture is not malevolent, it prevents us from knowing men’s specific needs and finding an arrangement that suits everyone in a process of negotiation between equal parties. On the other hand, the comparative analysis highlights that planning guidelines proposed by women express a vision of flexible space, they want changes possible (dance floor in the square centre encouraging friendliness and diversity). Men’s propositions offer a fixed view of Jean Jaurès square (central fixed public facilities: children playground, fountain breeze, etc.).

Step 3: “the planned space”

“If at home, we do not have the place to do a family reunion, why not doing it in the square because there is enough place, because the weather will be good and there will be benches and some tables.”

The final step was to gather users, contracting authorities (Bordeaux urban community and the city of Mérignac) and project management’s stakeholders in order to share outputs from the two previous steps. A rich and constructive debate has resulted from these exchanges. Participants came up with some guidelines for Jean Jaurès square.

Regarding the planning itself of the square, participants recommend to:

  • increase the value of already existing quality-shops by replacing deprived furniture of the square,
  • enhance landscape elements (e.g. plane trees) by lighting effect for instance,
  • orientate the square towards already attractive and lively public space i.e. shops.

In order to promote new uses and mixed appropriation, it is suggested to:

  • support social interactions (via shared gardens),
  • adapt the service offer (WiFi access for secondary-school pupils near to the bus stop),
  • promote women integration by creating a café welcoming for everybody,
  • change the way of thinking playground for children, think about the evolution of the place,
  • participate to the PARK(ing) DAY® event.