Feminist town planning in Glasgow – In conversation with Cllr Holly Bruce

Photo by Adam Marikar on Unsplash

We spoke with Glasgow City Councillor Holly Bruce about the topic of feminist town planning and what that process would look like in action across Glasgow.

Could you describe what feminist town planning means?

Urban environments have traditionally been built by men. Feminist town planning allows a critical eye on planning decisions through a gendered lens. Feminist town planning looks at every decision that is made within planning and assesses whether or not it meets a wide variety of needs, whether it’s accessible enough, affordable enough, convenient enough, and is built with diversity in mind.

Do you think there are still misconceptions about what the word ‘feminist’ means?

Totally. There is empirical research to show that everyone benefits from these planning changes, not just women. Having that feminist lens is important because traditionally, and it is still happening, the places we live have been designed and controlled by one group in society. People are often are afraid of the word feminism, still to this day, which is a bit concerning. Many people think that it means excluding men but the evidence shows that having a gendered lens benefits everyone.

I feel like we need to look at things a bit differently, through a more wellbeing angle which is what a more gendered lens tends to focus on.

What motivated you to put forward the motion in Glasgow?

I was part of a feminist organisation and called YWCA, who ran a young woman in leadership program in Glasgow that basically helped to increase political representation, and we ran a campaign on feminist town planning. We focused mostly on buses and on public parks in Glasgow to assess whether they worked for women or not. So, we developed academic and empirical research in that area which came back saying that parks and buses were unsafe and they were unaffordable, inaccessible and not convenient. So that was the beginning of the journey for me. That report came out last year and then I stood to be a Green Councillor and got elected and I was like, well, that’s gonna be the one of the first things that I’m going to try my hardest to tackle.

It was a lot of hard work, don’t get me wrong, but yeah, we passed it! There’s still a lot more to do from now and I’ll probably take until the end of my term to see this through, but that’s where it started.

What will this motion mean in practice?

So there are five actions in the motion and one is to embed feminist town planning into the City Development Plan, which essentially is the main planning document that the Council uses to make any decisions on planning. So basically, planners come to the Council with an application  and the committee who are Councillors then use the Development Plan to guide their decision.

I knew the city development plan was up for renewal so it was the perfect opportunity to embed this approach. I don’t know what it’s going to look like and there’s going to be lots of consultations and I want people’s lived experiences to be at the heart of it.

I know Vienna and Barcelona have been the two cities that have been leading on this in Europe and but Glasgow is a unique, multicultural city with very high level of poverty. There’s no blueprint for what this will look like in practice because every city is unique but we can certainly learn from what they’ve done previously.

(Interview continues below)

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How will this approach tie into the city’s environmental policies and goals?

It ties in so, so much to our environmental targets because planning, transport, public realm design, and women’s mobility are at the heart of this motion. Transport is one of the biggest emitters of carbon emissions in Scotland so reducing people’s reliance on cars is really important. Also, in Glasgow, a huge proportion of people don’t actually own a car and are reliant on public transport and active travel.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of the 20-minute neighbourhood? Glasgow city council have committed to a placemaking approach which is similar to a 20-minute neighbourhood approach and they’ve been consulting with communities about what they want in their neighbourhoods. But I’ve noticed that the consulting wasn’t great and they haven’t taken a very gendered lens, it’s been a bit slapdash in it’s data gathering so there are massive improvements that could be made to that specific project which I hope this motion can help with.

What do you think are the key challenges associated with implementing this approach in Glasgow?

Well, getting it passed was one hurdle which we have managed so now we need to get on with it. It will be slow progress but making sure that the officers are doing the work and that I’m pushing on it and keeping tabs on what’s happening with it because at the end of the day it’s them that will implement it. I’ve put it in the policy, but it’s up to the government and the officers to implement it.

Will there be training for people across the council about what this motion means?

So one of the actions in the motion was gender competence training. The Scottish Women’s Budget Group have recently got funding to help organisations and public bodies to look at things through a gendered lens. They mostly do gender budgeting through the budget process but this also applies to public realm design and policies that we pass that are not meeting the needs of women. There will be gender competence training across the heads of service as well.

Do you think there is a greater awareness about the need for more inclusive public spaces and services since the pandemic?

Definitely because people were spending all their time in their neighbourhoods. One of the things that came up during the pandemic that was spoken about a lot was public toilets or lack of public toilets. And that’s another thing that I’m going be looking at in the Council.

What cities inspire you in this work?

I mentioned Vienna and Barcelona which are the two that are the always referenced. There is also somewhere in Canada, I’ve forgotten the name of the city now, where at night bus drivers are able to stop slightly closer to people’s houses. So, if there’s a woman traveling her own at night, the bus driver can maybe go a little bit further than what they would normally go. I thought that was excellent.

Books discussed in this interview:

  • Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-made World by Lesley Kern
  • Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez
  • The work of Jane Jacobs