The traditional canon of urban planning excludes people and practices that could greatly benefit it—and society. That needs to change.
In Cities of Tomorrow, a textbook commonly used to teach the history of urban planning, Peter Hall espoused the contributions of Ebenezer Howard, Le Corbusier, and other heroic male figures of urbanism. As for women, he told the reader: “There were, alas, almost no founding mothers.”
It would be more accurate to say that women are and always have been part of urbanism, but their contributions have disappeared from planning and architectural history.
In light of recent discussions about the marginalization of women in technology, the media, and other fields, it’s time to bring attention to women in urbanism. So far, other writers have focused on two points: First, that there is a lack of representation and recognition for women’s contributions to the field; and second, that male architects and planners fail to design cities that account for diverse needs, including those of women.
I would add a third point, which is that we must expand the definition of what counts as “real” planning.
In school, most planners learn about Daniel Burnham as a founding father of modern urban planning. But few learn about the women-organized clubs that led the charge for urban beautification at the turn of the 20th century, transforming the American urban landscape. In her book Downtown America, Alison Isenberg discussed how women drove urban change by fundraising, organizing lectures, and focusing public attention on improving the urban aesthetic.