Good things

As pretty much everyone who reads this knows by now, we love data and research here at Make Space for Girls. Recently, though we’ve discovered that we love it even more when it arrives out of the blue, into our email without any warning.

Pleasingly, this has happened twice in the last few weeks. The first is the work of a very enterprising (and thorough) planning student called Jelena Kocmaruk from Vancouver. She was inspired by the Bloomberg article which featured us and wrote her major project on teenagers, parks and gender equity. And it’s great.

There is honestly so much that I’ve learned from reading this report – different perspectives, different pieces of research, but how about this for an interesting idea?

Clark and Uzzell suggest that if an environment
does not meet an individual’s needs, they will
either choose a different environment, or
attempt to alter their existing environment,
which could point to why teens are so often
perceived to be doing something disruptive in
public spaces – they are attempting to change
their environment to better meet their needs

Reframing teenage behaviours is definitely something I want to think about more. Along with the idea that rather than just roll our eyes at risk-taking teenagers, the more sensible alternative would be to provide them with situations with positive risks to take. Like interesting sports, or climbing walls in parks, or spaces to talk to new people in.

The other thing I was particularly pleased to find was a name for something we’ve been saying for a while, which is that if you make parks and public spaces better for teenage girls, they’ll work better for everyone. This, it turns out is called the Curb-Cut Effect, a name which comes from early 1970s California. A group of disability activists got fed up with how difficult travelling on pavements was in a wheelchair, so they pressured the authorities for dips in the pavement which would let them cross roads – a.k.a. curb cuts.

It turned out that these curb cuts didn’t only make life easier for the disabled; they also benefited parents with pushchairs, people with luggage, roller skaters and skate boarders. When they watched pedestrians, nine out of ten went out of their way to use the cut. Equity benefits more people than you think – and now I know I can call that the Curb Cut effect.

There’s plenty more where that came from – a more effective of evaluating how parks provide for teenagers to start with. In short, don’t just listen to me talking about it, go and read it yourself here.

The other is a piece of work led by the YWCA in Scotland, who mentor a group of young women in leadership each year. This year’s cohort decided to focus on feminist town planning and what that might mean for parks and public transport in Glasgow. Their report is packed full of good research and thinking.

As Visakha argues ‘the right to public space, and by extension the right to the city, is linked closely to the provision of public spaces and services’.

I’d recommend you read it just for the feisty overview of feminism and planning, but the group have also done some revealing number-crunching too. For example there are 91 parks in Glasgow, but only four of them have toilets. And only one of these is accessible.

That wasn’t the end of it either, the group also went out and gathered their own data. The surveys took place during the pandemic, so respondents were perhaps visiting the parks more often than usual, and perhaps also appreciating them too. One thing which is particularly interesting is that exercise wasn’t a major driver for visits (even though this is pretty much the only thing that councils consider when providing facilities. In fact, the top reason was socialising, mentioned by 81% of respondents.

Participants reported attending the park to meet friends and let children play. For those that visit by themselves, accessing parks for recreation and relaxation was a dominant theme, with 17% of respondents pointing out the need for fresh air and green spaces as a break from their flats.

It’s worth noting that they went out despite not feeling particularly safe. Perhaps the most sobering statistic of all is that only 20% of respondents felt very comfortable in their chosen park. And night makes things worse; for those who did feel safe, this was only during daylight hours.

As ever though, the data isn’t the only information, and the stories just keep coming.

“[…] a man approached me whilst I was [in the park] […] I said I was reading but he sat anyway […] till he eventually left (after trying to get my number, social media details & a kiss)”

Because heaven forbid that a woman should be on her own outside the house and like it that way.

One thing that I found particularly interesting in the report was their linkage of park safety to wider town planning. Many of the respondents used the parks ‘to get from A to B’ and so parks aren’t just a recreational facility, they are part of the travel network too.

Therefore, parks should ensure that any person can walk through them, rather than taking a detour around them, at any time of day or night. 

This is a particularly salient point just a week or so after Glasgow Police decided, rather suddenly, to close some roads for COP26 and so forced lots of women to walk home through parks when they didn’t want to.

Their conclusions are in the main sadly unsurprising – I say sadly because they keep being repeated but no one every does anything about them: better toilets and lighting, more security in parks, cut down the shrubbery. But I do like one of their final ones – that the city of Glasgow should form a partnership with Vienna, as leaders in feminist town planning. That resolution ought to be enacted by every single council in Britain.

Addendum: For those of you who didn’t see it on Twitter, a reminder, also from Glasgow, of how much work still remains to be done. This was a public art piece, installed on the gates of a park. But not just any park, Festival Park in Cessnock, where a teenage girl was raped earlier this year.

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