- Monash University, Faculty of Art Design and Architecture
- Plan International
SHEcity explores issues of women’s safety in cities and how they alter their behaviours as a consequence. Part of the WORKAROUND Exhibition at Design Hub, SHEcity invited the public to share their experiences and co-design alternate futures that embrace and facilitate spatial equity for women. Utilising research from Plan International, SHEcity set about translating harassment and assault data into plans of action with the aid of the participating public. The challenge lay in how might we raise public awareness of the issues confronting urban women, but equally motivate them to become advocates and activists in their own right?
SHEcity is an ongoing project, building the case for civic interventions by women for women. It allows for the voices of many young women (and those who identify as women) to put their ideas about civic safety into a public forum such that they could be heard and responded to. The experience was one of inclusion and positive action that brought together all genders and all members of our communities: the public, authorities and designers. The project was one of excellence in co-creation; the component parts of the design enabling people to construct responses to the issue of public safety.
The design itself was constructed as friendly and unthreatening to set people at ease when describing difficult and problematic experiences. Colourful and patterned forms invited interaction. The forms enabled easy conversation and the re-telling of stories. This was a major consideration. The intent of the design was to draw out public-based solutions to persistent problems of urban harassment and assault through active story-telling. SHEcity is part of a large and ongoing project that records public ideas and brings them to the attention of policy-makers, public transport providers, planners and designers as potential modes of enacting positive impact in our communities.
The project has substantially transformed the visibility of civic safety in Melbourne, and in conjunction with Plan International as far as Sydney, Delhi, Kampala, Lima and Madrid. SHEcity has resulted in invitations into a number of projects where public engagement and civic co-design have been identified as valuable contributions to city planning. This includes major public transport projects; invitations by councils to assist them in their addressing of public safety, and inclusion in architectural bids for large civic structures. The project champions the inclusion of diverse communities in the spatial decision making that directly impacts on them.
The innovation of SHEcity lies in its activation. Its outcomes cannot be predetermined and rely on the creative thinking of a public moved to action. It harnesses their energy in positive ways; not just as vocal advocates, but active protagonists in the reconstruction of our cities. It empowers young women and girls by allowing them to be heard. SHEcity offers new ways of thinking about civic safety that is co-created with those who are most impacted; repositioning them from ‘victim’ to ‘victor’ and providing viable options to address their freedom to access the entire city.
While SHEcity is oriented towards the experience of women in the city, it is inclusive of all genders in the realisation of solutions for gender-based spatial inequity. Community engagement and the sense of public empowerment was key to this project. The design components allowed people with little influence have the opportunity to say how their cities might better provide safe and equitable spaces for everyone. It acknowledges their expertise as users of the city. The participatory methods of rebuilding the city brought together disparate members of the community with those of influence and the capacity to facilitate change.