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What would a women-led city look like? This urban anthropologist wants to start that conversation

What would a women-led Philly look like? (Photo via Flickr user Morgan Burke, used under a Creative Commons license) January 5, 2018 Category: FeaturedMediumMethod
Urban anthropologist Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman wants people to realize something while on their daily commute to work or walking to and from their destinations.

“I think most people don’t walk around their cities thinking actively that they are walking through spaces that were designed by men,” said Johnston-Zimmerman, who has been working as a consultant for her own firm THINK.urban in Philly for about a year.

It’s why she prompts readers in her recent Next City op-ed to instead consider what their surroundings would look and feel like if the city was women-led.

That’s a conversation she hopes to start with a new project called the Women Led Cities Initiative which will culminate in a series of working conferences that bring together women from all kinds of urban fields, from urban planning and public policy to architecture and development, to start discussing a strategy to achieve “equitable representation in the way that we shape, design and manage our cities,” she said.

Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman. (Photo via twitter.com/think_katrina)

Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman. (Photo via twitter.com/think_katrina)

Johnston-Zimmerman is collaborating with Meegan Denenberg, cofounder of the Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship (which graduated its first cohort mid-last year), and the Knight Foundation to create the first event in Philly for sometime this upcoming spring.

You can read Johnston-Zimmerman’s op-ed to delve into the institutional reasons why she wanted to start the Women Led Cities Initiative, but there are also personal reasons for her wanting to get this project rolling — mainly, the sexism she experienced and witnessed in workplace settings.

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“I never really thought about how my gender might be impacting me and my work,” she said. “That was sort of a wake up call.”

In late 2016 when she started to think about what actionable steps she could take to address how male-dominated these city planning industries were, whether through talking about the issue more openly with her colleagues or attending the Women’s March in D.C. last year.

Traveling to countries like Sweden also helped provide Johnston-Zimmerman with a framework for what could bring about feminist progress when it came to city planning. She said that many of the Scandinavian countries have been more open toward accepting “feminist architecture” or “feminist city planning” movements, and it’s much easier to find projects being done on the ground that were designed with women in mind.

But she notes that even in these countries, more in-depth city planning by women has yet to be really seen. So she hopes that the Women Led Cities Initiative, which is having its own meetup event at the upcoming South by Southwest Festival this March, will be able to grow into something that brings together women from all over the world to spaces that feel safe and is open for conversation.

“It’s a very open conversation that we’re hoping for, too, because that’s just how this is going to work — we’re not just going to make cities better with women only or men only, we’re all going to come together to make this a better place for everyone,” she said.

And there are most likely issues beyond basic urban fixtures like lighting or transportation that have yet to be mentioned.

“What else are we missing?,” Johnston-Zimmerman said. “We don’t even know.”

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