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Is feminist urban planning the future of fitness?

Is feminist urban planning the future of fitness?Hearst Owned

A new female-focused urban planning initiative is launching in the UK, but is it enough to persuade women to exercise outdoors?

Alby Bailey

In the soft early morning sunshine, Jen Parker can usually be found pounding Barcelona’s patterned pavements. She’ll navigate the cobbled streets down to the port before ending up at the beach.

Wide walkways that don’t bottleneck with one pushchair, well-lit streets, and a culture oriented around the outdoors make Barcelona what the 49-year-old customer success and support manager calls an ‘easy’ place to go running, especially when she compares it to her former homes of Manchester and Edinburgh.

But while the sunny Spanish weather might be outside exercise’s best PR, Mediterranean meteorology can only take part of the credit.

Over the last two decades, Barcelona is one of a handful of European cities to have deliberately adopted a feminist approach to urban planning. The Spanish coastal city, famed for its beaches and cava, drew up a government measure in 2017 that meant any future urban planning would consider a gender perspective.

It’s since carried out gender safety audits in various neighbourhoods, launched an anti-manspreading campaign and created Superblocks, which sees parts of a grid of nine city blocks closed to traffic, allowing people to walk freely and congregate in new rest areas and children’s playgrounds.

It isn’t the first city to adopt such an approach. Following a nineties survey which found that men and women had different experiences of living in Vienna, more women have led the design and decision-making for the city, bringing better street lighting, seating, wider footpaths and more parks.

Today, Vienna features frequently in round-ups of the world’s best cities to inhabit; the 2022 Global Liveability Index awarded it the top spot for the third time in five years. The latest region to adopt a gendered approach? Glasgow, making it the first British city to put the needs and safety concerns of women like you centre stage when designing built-up spaces.

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