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Gender Curricula Spatial and Urban Planning

Course: Planning, Urban Planning
Group of courses: Engineering

Course objectives:

In spatial and urban planning, students are made familiar with theoretical concepts on the interrelations of space and gender and their co-constitution by looking at subject-specific content from women's and gender studies. Students will be able to analyse empirical observations in the respective historical, political and socio-cultural contexts. Thereby, contingencies can be identified so that students can develop new perspectives on current planning challenges. The discussion and application of methods and tools from gender planning strengthen students' creativity, know-how and competence and encourage them to critically reflect upon their professional practice.

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Teaching content/subject-specific gender studies content:

Specialist fields:

Spatial and urban planning are subjects with a wide range of specialist fields. Social and environmental sciences as well as legal and methodological basics are taught. Additionally, theories on planning in a narrower sense as well as their historical development are discussed. In addition to general, methodological and practical basics, specialisations in planning (e.g. housing, urban design, landscape planning, transport planning, industrial planning) are possible. Subject-specific gender-related content is relevant in all these fields.

1. Basics

Spatial and urban planners influence the design of settlement and living spaces in order to achieve politically defined goals. They have a specific legal and methodological framework at their disposal. Planners act against the background of social, economic, ecological, political and cultural conditions, some of which they cannot influence, but which nevertheless add to the success or failure of planning efforts. It is therefore essential to make students familiar with these framework conditions and at the same time to keep an eye on the contingency of these conditions.

Gender-related content contributes to questioning, critically reflecting and expanding the planning "canon of knowledge". This concerns both the deconstruction of concepts, which are traditionally defined in a specific way in planning, and the discussion of empirical observations on gender-specific patterns of spatial use and appropriation.

Feminist analyses of concepts such as "housing", "work", "family" and "mobility" offer new interpretations of socio-economic contexts in teaching. They show that today's spatial and settlement structures can not only be related to specific industrial capitalist requirements, but are also closely linked to a bourgeois gender order and gendered divisions of labour. The change of spatial and settlement structures from the origins of industrial capitalist production to the present day cannot be understood without an examination of this close interrelationship. One example is demographic change, whose consequences for cities and regions have been discussed with increasing urgency for years, but whose spatial structural and their interconnectedness with gender roles, social infrastructures or gender-specific labour market segregation still lack sufficient consideration. A second example is the discussion about the causes and consequences of global environmental and climate change and about "sustainable development", in which social natural conditions and thus consumer and production conditions are fundamentally questioned from a feminist perspective. Integrating these perspectives into teaching not only enables a more comprehensive understanding of the framework conditions for planning, but also a new view on potential solutions.

In addition to new conceptual approaches, gender studies offer empirical insights that are to be conveyed in teaching and sharpen students' view on social inequality and social differentiation as well as on mechanisms and processes of social privileging and discrimination of different groups. Topics include gender-specific segregation in different areas of society (employment markets, care, politics), the continuing gender-specific division of labour and its consequences for social positions, resources, roles and scopes of action (income, social security). Focusing on the social construction of social structures draws the students' attention both to the importance of individual action for stability and change in spatial and gender relations and to the social (planning) contexts for such actions.

Theoretical and empirical findings are to be examined at various territorial levels. The concept of "globalization" can be questioned theoretically on the one hand, but can also be used empirically for the analysis of the (re-)production of gender orders. The same applies to approaches that describe and explain migration and integration processes. From a feminist perspective, scales – as well as boundaries – are not regarded as set, but rather critically questioned against the background of the political instrumentalisation of such planning regarding the stabilization or restructuring of social conditions.

2. Planning theories

Feminist planning criticism was originally directed against rationalist planning theories that conceive planning as a technocratic discipline of experts and assume that it is possible to define and implement a collective common good. With the help of feminist analyses, many assumptions on which prominent planning theories are still based can be deconstructed, e.g. the norm of the small family household, the separation of (paid) employment from (unpaid) family work, or the gender-based division of labour. On the one hand, this demasks the supposed objectivity and freedom of ideology of rationalist approaches as myths; on the other hand, it points to the importance of positions and positioning, from which planning is discussed. The feminist reflection of current communicative planning theories also reveals mechanisms that reproduce existing power relations.

Accordingly, the deconstructive approach also refers to the often negated or supposedly to be overcome partisanship of planning. Examples can be used to show that the ideal of planning "for all" can often not be fulfilled. Social differentiation therefore plays a central role for feminist planning theories and includes intersectional and postcolonial spatial and planning analyses in teaching.

For a better understanding of the contingency of definitions and guidelines of planning, historical examples of planning as well as the examination of the biographies of female planners and architects, who have received significantly less attention in the history of planning than their male colleagues, are used. Both in the USA and in Europe, feminist thought leaders were already involved in the development of new visions for urban planning and architecture at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Yet, they had been forgotten until the second half of the 20th century. In times when new housing models and approaches are being sought, remembering these pioneering female thinkers and model projects from the second wave women's movement helps to make students aware of alternative forms of living.

3. Specialist fields:

The following topics are of great importance for the specialist fields.

  • Housing/residential construction has always been a core topic of feminist spatial and planning research. Already the first women's movement has given impulses to architecture and urban planning, which are taken up again today by alternative common housing projects. Based on this, spatial structures for a new social division of labour and new forms of communalisation will be discussed in courses.
  • Reproductive and family work depends to a large extent on a sufficient supply of supporting services and infrastructures. The functional separation of the post-war period and the focus on automobility prevented the compatibility of family and work. The ideal of the city of short distances is undisputed today, but can still be expanded with regard to the design of living environments for the elderly and those in need of care.
  • The distinction between the public and the private sphere is a central aspect of feminist criticism and is also applied to the order of spaces and open space planning. This concerns aspects such as the use and appropriation of space, (semi-public) common spaces for encounters and social control, as well as intimidating spaces and security.
  • Gender-specific mobility and traffic behaviour manifests itself, for example, in trip chains, in the choice of means of transport and in time- and person-related mobility barriers. Current empirical observations suggest breaks and continuities that can be assessed ambivalently. The analysis of the socio-cultural significance of mobility and transport, in particular, allows condensed explanatory patterns that are important, for example, with regard to sustainable development.
  • Gender-specific labour market segregation requires special attention to the resulting spatial use patterns, infrastructural demands (e.g. transport connections, supply) and mixed use as well as the consequences for regional and local added value. Based on this, students are to be made aware of the requirements of settlement and business planning as well as economic development.
Theoretical and methodological approaches:

Subject-specific findings from gender studies cover the entire range of specialist fields in planning studies (see above). Interestingly, a double approach can often be observed in both research and teaching: (a) from a specific specialist perspective on gender and (b) from a feminist or gender perspective on the respective planning field (e.g. housing and urban development, traffic or open space planning). Even though there are many links and overlaps, the theoretical perspectives and the methodological approaches can usually be ideally differentiated depending on the approach.

Concerning a) In many studies on gender relations from a specialist perspective, the traditional distinction between men and women continues to play an important role. The aim of planning interventions in this case is the equality of both genders, in particular by taking greater account of female spatial use and appropriation patterns, the promotion of the compatibility of family and work ("city of short distances", expansion of non-automotive mobility) and higher quality of living (avoidance of intimidating spaces, open space planning appropriate for use). In teaching, students are made familiar with empirical findings and interrelationships as well as guidelines and catalogues of criteria that make planning verifiable with regard to "women's/gender justice".

Concerning b) Feminist studies on planning and specialist fields more frequently discuss the social construction of gender (roles) and the interactions between the constitution of spaces and gender. They are less interested in practical guidelines for planning, but in the deconstruction of planning practice or its underlying norms and ideologies. This includes, for example, the heteronormativity of planning, which is reflected in typical target group descriptions and concepts of normality.

In teaching, both approaches are highly relevant, complement each other and overlap. Access from a subject-specific perspective generally allows better connectivity to mainstream discussions and is linked more to "more tangible" gender and spatial concepts deriving from empirical knowledge. Feminist approaches to planning subjects, on the other hand, emphasise their role in social transformation and are less concerned with the practical challenges of professional everyday life, but with the further development of conceptual approaches. It can currently be observed that with new approaches to gender planning (as gender mainstreaming in planning) the "practical" side with a more gender-oriented focus is gaining importance, while the "strategic" goal of social transformation only plays a minor role. However, it appears that this could change again in the near future.

Aspects of professionalism:

The professional culture of urban and spatial planning is still little researched with regard to the associated professional gender images, even though current planning and architectural-historical works, exhibitions and conferences show that unequal opportunities for social advancement are reflected in the planning profession to the same extent as in other professions. A regular survey among graduates of the Faculty of Spatial Planning at the Technical University of Dortmund shows differences between graduates in study planning, career entry, career paths (income, positions) and fields of activity in the first five years after starting a career. The aim is to make students aware of these differences and to encourage them to (self-)reflect upon this by pointing out the closure mechanisms in the education system and the labour market that can be observed in many professions. In this context, intersectional perspectives play an important role.


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Integration of gender studies content into the curriculum:

In urban and spatial planning, gender content can be implemented both in specific gender modules and as a cross-cutting issue. An integration of gender content into different modules allows the critical perspective of gender studies to become a natural element of the study course. However, it cannot be assumed that this is desired by all teaching staff and is possible everywhere. In this respect, the integration of gender content into modules is a good way of pointing out links between planning knowledge and feminist approaches, even if this demands a significant transfer of learning from students.

At the basic level (e.g. in a module on social science basics), an introductory lecture on space and gender can be implemented to link gender studies and spatial planning. The focus can be on theoretical concepts, empirical analyses and methodological approaches. It is important to place them in their respective historical context and to identify the structures and mechanisms that have shaped the co-constitution of spaces and gender in the past and continue to do so today. Possible topics are:

  • social constructions of gender, intersectionality
  • living and working
  • the crisis of reproductive work/demographic change
  • gender imaginations
  • patterns of space appropriation, open spaces, the public and the private sphere
  • queer spaces
  • gender, mobility and transport
  • gender, migration and diversity

Feminist perspectives can convey a critical attitude towards often unquestioned planning concepts. This can be implemented, for example, in a lecture seminar in which the students transfer what they have learned, e.g. by setting feminist planning theories in relation to other planning theories. It is not so much a matter of conveying the "right" perspective, but of pointing out the different premises and consequences for planning actors and their tasks.

A seminar on gender planning (e.g. as an elective course) can actively promote the transfer into practice. Practical exercises to experience intersectional privileges/discrimination, but also practical examples from urban development and open space planning are helpful. However, there is a risk that "best practice" might be analysed separately from feminist concepts and that the references between feminist criticism and planning practice will be ignored. The boundaries between inclusion/accessibility, suitability for everyday use, compatibility and other concepts are often blurred in this context.

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Degree Stage:

Study courses in planning at Bachelor's level are structured differently in Germany and can comprise either six or eight semesters. Accordingly, it depends on the general teaching capacity which content can be implemented in the Bachelor's and which in the Master's programme. In principle, all content is suitable for an early phase of the Bachelor's programme. Basics on space and gender can be taught as part of courses on social science basics/urban and regional sociology. An exercise course on gender planning can either be linked to the respective lecture so that students are made aware of the practical relevance of the content, or it can be offered as an in-depth seminar. Planning theory content must be implemented at an appropriate point in the course of study; basic knowledge is certainly helpful for a better understanding, so that an implementation in the final Bachelor's phase seems reasonable.