Vienna, August 31, 2018 - Vienna has set itself the goal to create safe and inclusive public spaces – where nobody feels threatened and citizens of both sexes and all ages are invited to spend their time. This goal is in compliance with several of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – namely SDGs 5, 10, and 11. The achievement of these goals requires policy measures to prevent sexual harassment and violence directed towards women and girls in public spaces and to encourage them to use these spaces for their enjoyment and recreation. However, realization of these goals requires actions that go beyond prevention. Women and girls feel should feel not just safe, but welcome and accepted in the public space. To create an environment that is conducive to their needs and preferences, it is first of all necessary to enhance awareness of how traditional ways of planning and shaping public spaces have been geared towards the needs and preferences of men and boys primarily.
An example is parks and playgrounds – they are mostly designed from the perspective of male adults and under consideration of the interests of male children and young adults. Boys frequently congregate in larger groups and they tend to be noisier, more resolute and dominant in claiming public spaces, such as sports facilities in parks. Also, they mostly prefer different sports – soccer, for instance, whereas girls engage more in sports such as volleyball or badminton, for which there is often times no special playground to be found in parks. Once a particular space has been claimed by boys, girls have been found to be reluctant to use this space for their activities.
With these different interests in mind, the Viennese city government moved ahead and commissioned the redesigning of two parks in the fifth district - Einsiedlerpark and Bruno-Kreisky-Park, based on a study titled “Lost Opportunities? – Bringing Girls into the Public Space”. This study was conducted as early as 1996/7, which shows that Vienna officials have long been aware of, and responsive to, the need for gender-sensitive planning of public spaces. In 2001, the process of redesigning the Einsiedlerpark to include the findings of the study regarding gender-specific landscape planning with its special emphasis on providing proper lighting and clear and open common areas was completed. The same procedure was then applied to the Bruno-Kreisky-Park and other parks in the city.
An interesting fact when examining the role of women in the public space is also their lack of presence when it comes to naming public places – parks, streets, buildings and squares. The overwhelming majority of them are currently still named after men, but efforts are under way to change this gender bias in the direction of a fairer representation of women. New city development projects, like the “Seestadt Aspern”, are dedicated to tipping the balance in favour of women by naming the streets, squares and parks in his area after famous female pioneers who created something new, innovative and extraordinary.
Sometimes, such efforts can also find their expression in creating works of art that celebrate the role of women in public life and politics. In summer 2008, artist Irene Andessner realized a big project where she installed 400 so called “Citylight” showcases displaying portraits of famous women who made an important impact on life in Vienna in the 19th and 20 century. These women had played an active role in the areas of science, the arts, industry and civil life. This art project, which seeks to integrate history with contemporary art, was accompanied by a lecture series about these women and their achievements as well as a guided tour to the places where they lived. The project ran from July 8 – August 30, 2008. The life stories of these famous female personalities can be found on www.wienerfrauen.at. More information about the project is available under http://www.koer.or.at/projekte/citylights-wiener-frauen/.
Another project, which honors a famous Austrian feminist and Social Democratic politician, Johanna Dohnal and which was initiated in 2001 by artist Isabella Kresse under the title: “For Johanna,” is still ongoing. It is a permanent exhibition that celebrates Dohnal’s commitment to equal rights and opportunities for women in Austria. In the course of the project, a birch tree was planted in one park in each of Vienna’s 23 districts and a concrete plate with her name placed beside it. This counteracts the traditional idea of a memorial: instead of being established in one place, the memorial can be visited in different places all over the city. For more information, go to: http://www.koer.or.at/projekte/fuer/johanna
Another project that commemorates famous women was initiated, planned and implemented by the district council of the 18th district in collaboration with the Museum’s Association Währing in 2014. Along the “Wiener Frauenweg” (Vienna Women’s Walk) inside the Pötzleinsdorfer Schlosspark, one of the most beautifully landscaped parks in Vienna, 10 panels provide information and explanations about individual female personalities that shaped life in Vienna as well as about the history and role of women in the 20th century. More at http://www.waehringerfrauenweg.at/
These various projects are intended to raise awareness regarding the necessity to enhance the visibility of women in the public space. For more than 20 years, this has been the strategy of the Vienna city government – a strategy that is to be continued and enlarged to include other underrepresented groups as well – with the eventual goal that people of different social and cultural backgrounds, people of all ages, men and women, will feel at home in this city.
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