The changes to Vienna’s parks came about as part of their policy of ‘gender-mainstreaming’, considering gender as part of every single planning decision.
Several parks have been altered as a result, but the flagship for the scheme was Einsiedler Park, a small enclosed square in an ethnically mixed neighbourhood of Vienna. Initial research showed that the girls felt that there was nothing in the park for them (sound familiar?) so they didn’t go, and also that they were afraid to enter spaces which already had groups of older boys in them, and were often rebuffed when they did. Yet the girls often passed through the park on their way to and from school.
How space was made for girls
The first strategy was to get them to stop for just a few minutes, described as ‘quick attraction’ by the planners. They put up hammocks and platforms near the paths, to give the girls a reason to stop. This began to work, and more girls lingered.
Their fear of the park was also addressed with wider paths which ran round the whole perimeter, and better lighting.
The next step was to alter the games area so that the boys could not dominate it and the girls felt safe to go in. The entrances were increased to three, and widened so that the girls did not feel trapped. The playing area was also divided into two with a block which could be a seating area but also part of a game.
This meant that even when the boys were using one side, the whole space was not occupied. In additional, only one side of the area was painted with pitch markings, the other was left open for children to decide how it should be used.
In addition, the planners here had to deal with intersectionality. Some girls came from ethnic backgrounds which meant that they were expected to care for their younger siblings, and mostly came to the park with them, so seats and benches were installed in the infants playground so that they could sit and chat while keeping an eye on their siblings.
From these projects, the city produced some general guidelines for thinking about play areas for girls and young women. They most value:
Visible footpaths which were clear and easy to see where they led;
Spaces divided into smaller sub-zones;
Wide entrances and exits;Areas for rest and lingering or loitering;
Games such as netball, volleyball, and badminton;
More swings and equipment for climbing and balancing;
Good quality toilets.
Most of all, though, they stress the need for running an expert consultation process with the girls themselves and other stakeholders, undertaken with a close awareness of the equality issues.
There is only one negative thing to say about the Einsiedler Park Scheme. It happened twenty years ago. Why haven’t more things changed?