Seen and Heard: TWCA Official Plan Teach-In

Laura Haché

On the evening of September 25th, the Toronto Women’s City Alliance (TWCA) brought together a diverse group of 30 men and women at Metro Hall to learn about the future of safety, housing, employment, and social services for women across the city.

Since 2004, the TWCA has pushed for political commitment in addressing and removing barriers that many women face in accessing essential services. The purpose of Wednesday’s event was to bring community members up to speed on the City’s Official Plan review, as well as brainstorm how we can incorporate gender-sensitive planning into that process.

While the majority of Wednesday’s audience devote their careers to advocating for women’s rights and ensuring that disadvantaged voices are heard, the concept of gender-sensitive planning was new for many at the table. Giving collective goals a name in the policy world can be empowering, as it allows women from a diverse background to acknowledge that they too should be reflected in the policies that shapes their city.

Gender-sensitive planning calls into question some very basic assumptions within city planning, such as who is entitled to public space, and how we define the public.  Different people use space differently, and if 52 per cent of Toronto’s population are women, how is that reflected in the design of public space?

Since the early 1990s, Vienna, Austria, has committed to gender mainstreaming––which UN Habitat named a 2008 best practice in their Database of Improving the Living Environment. Gender mainstreaming aims to create laws that benefit men and women equally. Of all the areas that have successfully incorporated this concept, urban planning has seen the greatest impact.

By conducting surveys to determine how different people and groups use space differently, city planners in Vienna found a gendered bias towards patterns of movement. Women are more likely to make multiple stops on their way to and from their workplace, to run errands, and drop off children at daycare. Women were also more likely to use public transit and use sidewalks more than men.

City planners in Vienna used this information to change the way public space is designed to incorporate women’s particular needs. City planners have taken steps to consciously increase safety by installing more streetlights, improve walkability by widening sidewalks, and favour mixed uses of space.

The TWCA is using the case study of Vienna as an example of how Toronto can better to reflect the needs of its citizens. Since the City is undertaking a statutory five-year review of the Official Plan, the TWCA is taking this opportunity to propose a number of policies intended to address prioritized goals. These policies were presented to the staff of the City of Toronto Planning Department in December 2011, but have yet to receive positive feedback regarding the suggestions.

At the meeting, the group worked together to brainstorm how to best communicate gender-sensitive planning strategies to decision makers and how to engage more women in the planning process. Getting involved in the political process and understanding city planning is difficult for the average citizen, making TWCA’s promotion of civic literacy and community brainstorming critical for more diverse groups to find their political voice.

For those interested in finding out more about the TWCA, visit their website at www.twca.ca.

Laura Haché is a 2015 Master of Public Policy Candidate at the School of Public Policy and Governance. She holds a B.A. in Arts and Contemporary Studies from Ryerson University and has worked on many collaborative projects in the non-profit sector, most recently with Jane’s Walk. Laura is passionate about social policy, community engagement, and encouraging civic literacy. 

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