Umeå has focussed on gender mainstreaming across the entire city. As part of this, a site called ‘Frizon’ has been developed in one of the parks, designed for and with teenage girls. The city has also been working on infrastructure which improves safety for women and girls.

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The city of Umeå in northern Sweden has done a lot of work on gender equality and what this means in terms of urban planning.

As part of this work, they understood the issues which face teenagers, and in particular girls.

…young people have nowhere to go. They are not welcome in restaurants and bars and have limited financial opportunities to take part in the commercial offer in the form of films, concerts, theater or other events. For those who are not active athletes, there are few options in small or medium-sized cities.

To remedy the particular barriers faced by teenage girls, they created Frizon in Årstidernas park, which is social seating meets sculpture meets cool piece of design.

Tyrens architects and the artist Kerstin Bergendal designed it in collaboration with local teenage girls over a number of workshops. The results are beautiful but also practical.

Seating facility for teenage girls in park with seats like swings, two girls sitting chatting in foreground

It’s social seating – what’s not to like – and has shelter against Swedish winter weather. But there’s more to it than that. The seats are also designed to be ergonomically right for teenage girls, rather than for the default male. And you can play music on it from your phone

The elegance is also important, it’s a sign to the teenage girls that their presence is welcomed and valued in the park.

a seating facility for teenage girls in a park with seats like swings and coloured roof inserts, seen at night with two girls sitting on a seat.

And it works – research shows that it is well used by teenage girls right into the evening.

Safety is a big barrier to teenage girls accessing open spaces. Elsewhere in Umeå, the attention to how women experience the city resulted in a narrow and dark underpass which women and girls found unsafe being redesigned.

Wide and curved entrance to underpass with trees and pedestrian in distance

The lighting was improved and the shape of the entrances pared back with curves, resulting in better lines of sight and fewer hiding places. An additional exit was also added in the middle, so that women can get out if they are feeling uncomfortable for any reason.

Underpass with lit artwork on walls, being passed by cyclists and pedestrians

But that’s not all they’ve done. All along the walls is a representation of birch trees, a symbol of the town, along with the word ‘Live’ in neon – a celebration of the works of local author and feminist Sara Lidman.

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