Looking back: What we learned in 2013

As 2013 draws to a close, it is a good opportunity to reflect on what we have learned from cities in the URB.im network during the last year. Some of our community managers discuss the benefits of increased citizen participation in the planning and implementation of urban initiatives. Others highlight the effectiveness of programs that build the capacity of youth and women to be agents for poverty alleviation. Many discuss how to ensure that the benefits of economic growth and urban improvement extend to the most marginalized residents.

Continue reading to learn more about lessons learned in Mumbai, Nairobi, Lagos, and Mexico City, and join the discussion to share your own in the comments below.

Mexico City
Carlin Carr

What 2013 taught India about including women in urban planning

Carlin Carr, Mumbai Community Manager


This time last year, a horrific event took place in India. A young girl and her male friend took a late-night bus ride in Delhi after a movie; it ended up being the girl's last. In the bus, she was gang raped and so brutally assaulted that even an emergency medical flight to Singapore couldn't save her. The incident sparked national and international outrage; protestors poured into the streets of India's major cities to force more stringent laws to protect women against violence.

Months later, a female photojournalist out on an assignment in an abandoned mill area in the center of Mumbai endured a similarly brutal assault and gang rape. As it turns out, the men had done this to ragpicker women in the area before, but few women, especially the poor, feel comfortable stepping forward. Mumbai has always been touted as a safe city for women, but incidents like these have rattled this sense of security.

While legal frameworks, training for police officers, and educating men are all key areas in reducing violence against women, urban planning also has a large role to play. For women to feel safe in India's urban environments, city planners need to ensure that appropriate infrastructure is in place to help women feel safer and more secure in — and to feel that they are a part of — urban India. Here are five key areas to address:

  • Transport: Women-only train cars have been a great addition in Mumbai; in Bangalore, sections of the buses also are reserved solely for women. These measures reserve safe spaces for women and signal that women are encouraged to travel in the city.
  • Lighting: Dark streets create an unwelcoming environment for women, and the lack of lighting also jeopardizes their safety. Streetlights are needed not only throughout main roads and thoroughfares, but also in informal settlements, where darkness hovers once the sun goes down.
  • Activity: Despite the antagonistic relationship that many Indian cities have toward street vendors, their presence brings a vitality that increases women's security. Delhi proposed an initiative last year to create vending areas near metro entrances. Initiatives of this type, particularly around transport stations, will go a long way in creating a city that is not only vibrant, but also safe.
  • Passageways: Although crossing roads in Mumbai is risky, the underground passageways that allow walkers to traverse busy intersections are much scarier, especially for women. Some in the city seem much friendlier than others, with good lighting and security officers posted, but many others are dark and dank.
  • Sanitation: We recently reported on the abysmal toilet situation in Mumbai, where there is only one toilet seat for every 1,800 women. Even when there are toilets available, women and young girls often have to walk great distances or choose a dark and secluded area in order to have some measure of privacy. Providing proper sanitation preserves people's dignity, but it also will go a long way toward reducing the risk of violence against women during this necessary act.

Many of these measures are low-hanging fruit in the larger urban planning needs of the city. They are economically feasible and don't require large infrastructure overhauls. Brighter, more vibrant and welcoming cities will benefit the entire citizenry and go a long way toward making women feel comfortable engaging in their urban environment.

Photo: erin


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