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Inés Sánchez de Madariaga on how urban planning shapes society

"When we talk about cities, physical planning is more important than the use of information technologies."

Tags: 'gender inclusivity' 'Inés Sánchez de Madariaga' 'Smart Cities' 'smart cities regulation' 'urban planning'

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Focused on architecture and urbanism with a gender view, Inés Sánchez de Madariaga is a PhD in Architecture specialised in Urban Planning. She has a Master of Science by the Department of Urban Planning and Preservation of Columbia University and works as a Ph teacher and researcher in Urban Planning at the Technical University of Madrid. Since 2016, Inés is the UNESCO Chair on Gender Equality Policies in Science, Technology and Innovation, and Co-Chair of the Research and Academic Partner Constituent Group of the General Assembly of Partners, New Urban Agenda, UN-Habitat.

Can you give us an overview of your work?

I do three different kinds of activities following the university’s mission: teaching, researching and transferring technology and innovation to society. As a teacher, I give classes about urban planning and gender in urban planning in the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, as well as conferences and courses for professionals in the public and private sector, in the fields of urban planning and gender.

As a researcher, I also lead different research projects on urban planning, gender and architecture for the European Commission as well as for public and private contractors.

Finally, the third dimension of my activity regards the transfer of technology and social innovation which I do on mainstream and social media, but also through my position as Co-Chair of the New Urban Agenda of UN-Habitat and the UNESCO Chair on Gender Equality Policies in Science, Technology and Innovation.

What’s a smart city?

A Smart city for me is a city that actively and consciously uses new technologies as a means and as a tool to improve the quality of life of all people, regardless of gender, age, race, socioeconomic status, family situation, place of residence, religious beliefs, or any other sexual condition that may define your identity, as an individual, or as part of a group.

New technologies are very powerful tools that can contribute in a very significant way to improving, for instance, the efficiency of urban public services management reducing geographical and social inequalities in access to goods and services.

New technologies are very powerful tools that can contribute in a very significant way to improving, for instance, the efficiency of urban public services management reducing geographical and social inequalities in access to goods and services. But they are just that, tools. They are not an end in themselves. Those who make decisions and those who design the systems must keep this in mind.

Is a smart city a better city?

I would say that a Smart city is not necessarily a better city, although it can be.

When we talk about cities, physical planning is more important than the use of information technologies. Urban planning is more important than what we call Smart cities as building tools. Information technologies have their scope of action in supporting urban management in all areas.

Do cities discriminate by gender?

Men and women live in the city very differently (statistically speaking) because women take care of most of the nursing tasks, which are those necessary for the maintenance of the home, the reproduction of life, and taking care of people dependent on others (minors, seniors, sick and disabled people). This gender gap closes very slowly and urban planning decisions do not affect men and women in the same way.

The urban discipline has been built taking the male experience as a reference standard, thus we can say that in many occasions cities generate comparative disadvantage situations for women.

The urban discipline has been built taking the male experience as a reference standard, thus we can say that in many occasions cities generate comparative disadvantage situations for women.

Regarding mobility, women make more trips, with more trip chaining, more polygonal patterns and fewer pendular trips, and they use public transport more. All this has to do with the double workload assumed by women, different from those who statistically dedicate most of their time to paid employment and do not assume nursing tasks.

How should cities tackle this issue?

These realities of city use are not normally considered in the planning and design processes. It seems to me that the needs of working mothers with children, single mothers, people of age living alone and immigrants are among the most urgent and important aspects to consider. Urban planning, transport policies and housing policies can contribute in many ways to improve their living conditions.

I am optimistic in this regard. A broad consensus on the relevance of the gender approach in urban planning is starting to be generated.

And how can smart cities help tackle these issues and be more inclusive?

Smart city technologies can help alleviate gender inequalities in the city through an integration of the gender perspective in its design and application. Cities should take an approach called “gender mainstreaming”, a term coined in the 1995 United Nations Beijing World Conference on Women. Gender mainstreaming is a process of analysis and definition of policies, plans, programs and projects which considers the implications for women.

A fundamental aspect, in the specific case of Smart cities, refers to data. I find it particularly important to ensure that the use of the data is without gender biases or omissions.

A fundamental aspect, in the specific case of Smart cities, refers to data. I find it particularly important to ensure that the use of the data is without gender biases or omissions.

 

What’s the impact of the free-market on gender discrimination in cities?

The free market, without adequate regulatory frameworks, generates discrimination, not only by gender, but also by many other variables, such as, for example, and mainly, the socioeconomic level. However, markets are currently highly regulated in our European societies. In addition, welfare states provide additional layers of security to the population although in recent years we have witnessed a significant reduction in social protection levels, notably in the countries of southern Europe.

Should administrations regulate more urban planning and city growth, as well as the allocation of plots and the price of housing, and how can technology help with that?

Urban planning is fundamental and indispensable. No developed country in the world manages the growth of its cities in any other way.

The house has very important social and economic dimensions, in addition to the spatial aspects that are defined through urban planning. It is a very important sector of the economy, and it is also a fundamental, basic social benefit for life. It is therefore a very important area of ​​economic and social policy. Housing and urban policies have multiple interrelated effects on the price of housing and we need to consider a policy as a whole.

Technology can help better understand the reality of the markets through open price databases that provide greater transparency on real estate markets.

Technology can help better understand the reality of the markets through open price databases that provide greater transparency on real estate markets.

Should citizens be able to participate more directly in urban planning?

Citizens should definitely be able to participate in city planning, especially in the surroundings of their place of residence where they develop an important part of their daily lives and which they know well. Technology offers tools that can be useful in these processes, although it is necessary to properly design such processes. For example, the use of platforms must ensure that groups with difficulties in accessing new technologies, such as the elderly, or with accessibility difficulties, for example, are not excluded.