Indian women are confined to the home – because their cities designed for men

Traffic in Delhi. Image: Getty.

The inequality between men and women in India is stark, and nowhere more so than on the streets of its cities, which are undeniably the domain of men. Of course, this is partly because there are fewer women in the population. With 940 women per 1,000 men, the nation has a low sex ratio, stemming from families’ preference for male children, as well as poor nutrition and health care for women.

What’s more, just 27 per cent of Indian women participate in the work force, compared with 79 per cent of men. This trend is most obvious in urban areas. Although women in India mostly walk, cycle or use public transport to go to work, they are still much less visible in public spaces than men, because many do not have jobs to travel to at all. This has a significant impact on women’s health, and their opportunities in life.

According to India’s 2011 census, only 17 per cent of all people commuting to work in urban areas are women. Even in India’s large metropolitan cities, such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai, the proportion of women commuters never rises above 20 per cent. Overall, there are nearly five men to every one woman who commutes to work.

Staying home

This inequality is also reflected in data about drivers license holders, where men outnumber women by nine to one – compare this to the US, where women outnumber men (albeit by a small amount). Even with its rapidly growing economy, India’s level of vehicle ownership is still very low. There are only 20 cars per 1,000 people in India, compared with more than 400 in most high income countries.

This means that the vast majority of people travel on foot, cycle or take public transport – so 83 per cent of those women who commute to work in Indian cities will take one of these options. In England, only 27 per cent of women travel to work by one of these three modes of transport, and in the US, fewer still.

City of men. Image: Rahul Goel/University of Cambridge/author provided.

According to a travel survey my colleagues and I conducted in Delhi in 2013 – which includes all journeys, and not just those to work – Indian men attain similar levels of physical activity through travel as those in the Netherlands, where cycling is very popular (though in Delhi its mostly from walking). Meanwhile, women are only half as active.

Given the evidence, it’s clear that this is not because women travel more by car – it’s because many women do not travel in the city at all. Our study found that only 20 per cent of all the trips in Delhi are made by women, and only 25 per cent in Bengaluru city. With lower levels of physical activity, women are exposed to higher risk of heart disease, breast cancer and depression.

Safer streets

What’s more, over a third of women who work in Indian cities do so from home. Confined to the home, women are socially excluded, which means they lose out on the benefits that often come from developing a social network, such as emotional or financial support, access to opportunities, or participation in the social or political life of the community. For women to willingly participate in activities outside home, streets, neighbourhoods and transport infrastructure must be designed to be sensitive to the needs of women.

Getting out and about. Image: Luisen Rodrigo/Flickr/creative commons.

The safety of women in public spaces should not solely depend on stricter laws on violence against women, or better law enforcement – although this has a role to play. Women’s right to move through public spaces without fear can also be safeguarded through the built environment, using principles such as “eyes on the street” – according to which people feel safer in open, attractive streets with lots of other people around, while lonely streets instil fear.


Making streets safer for women would also help make public transport more accessible, as bus or train journeys typically involve walking at both ends. Stops and stations should be located in busy areas, and should be well lit at night. A plethora of other measures – such as training for transport staff and more women employees – are also needed to make journeys by public transport safer for women, as harassment on buses and trains remains a major social issue (and not just in India).

With the presence of street hawkers, high population density, narrow streets and a large number of people walking and cycling, Indian cities do have some of the liveliest neighbourhoods in the world, where women can feel safe. But these neighbourhoods often exist in isolation, as cities grow in size. The challenge is to ensure safety by design at a much larger scale.

The Conversation

Rahul Goel, Research Associate, University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Mexico City’s new airport is an environmental disaster. But it could become a huge national park

Mexico City’s new Norman Foster-designed airport, seen here in a computer rendering, is visually striking but environmentally problematic. Image: Presidencia de la República Mexicana/creative commons.

Mexico City long ago outgrew the two-terminal Benito Juárez International Airport, which is notorious for delays, overcrowding and canceled flights. Construction is now underway on a striking new international airport east of this metropolis of 20m. When it opens in late 2020, the LEED-certified new airport – whose terminal building was designed by renowned British architect Norman Foster in collaboration with the well-known Mexican architect Fernando Romero – is expected to eventually serve 125m passengers. That’s more than Chicago O'Hare and Los Angeles’ LAX.

But after three years of construction and $1.3bn, costs are ballooning and corruption allegations have dogged both the funding and contracting process.

Environmentalists are also concerned. The new airport is located on a semi-dry lake bed that provides water for Mexico City and prevents flooding. It also hosts migrating flocks and is home to rare native species like the Mexican duck and Kentish plover.

According to the federal government’s environmental impact assessment, 12 threatened species and 1 endangered species live in the area.

The airport project is now so divisive that Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the populist winner of the country’s 2018 presidential campaign, has suggested scrapping it entirely.

An environmental disaster

Mexico’s new airport sits in a federal reserve. Image: Yavidaxiu/The Conversation.

I’m an expert in landscape architecture who studies the ecological adaption of urban environments. I think there’s a way to save Mexico’s new airport and make it better in the process: create a nature reserve around it.

Five hundred years ago, lakes covered roughly 20 percent of the Valle de Mexico, a 3,500-square-mile valley in the country’s south-central region. Slowly, over centuries, local residents – first the Aztecs, then the Spanish colonisers and then the Mexican government – built cities, irrigation systems and plumbing systems that sucked the region dry.

By the mid-20th century, the lakes had been almost entirely drained. In 1971, President Luís Echeverría decreed the area a federal reserve, citing the region’s critical ecological role for Mexico City. The smattering of small lakes and reforested land there now catch and store runoff rainwater and prevent dust storms.

The new airport will occupy 17 square miles of the 46-square-mile former Lake Texcoco. To ensure effective water management for Mexico City, the airport master plan proposes creating new permanent water bodies to offset the lakes lost to the airport and cleaning up and restoring nine rivers east of the airport. It also proposes planting some 250,000 trees.

The government’s environmental assessment determined that the impacts of the new airport, while significant, are acceptable because Lake Texcoco is already “an altered ecosystem that lost the majority of its original environmental importance due to desiccation and urban expansion.” Today, the report continues, “it is now only a desolate and abandoned area.”

Environmentalists loudly disagree.

Make Mexico’s airport great again

I see this environmental controversy as an opportunity to give Mexico City something way more transformative than a shiny new airport.

Nobody can entirely turn back the clock on Lake Texcoco. But the 27 square miles of lake bed not occupied by the airport could be regenerated, its original habitat partially revitalised and environmental functions recovered in a process known as restoration ecology.

I envision a huge natural park consisting of sports fields, forests, green glades and a diverse array of water bodies – both permanent and seasonal – punctuated by bike paths, walking trails and access roads.

The airport will come equipped with new ground transportation to Mexico City, making the park easily accessible to residents. Extensions from the surrounding neighborhood streets and highways could connect people in poor neighbourhoods abutting the airport – dense concrete jungles like Ecatepec, Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl and Chimalhuacan – to green space for the first time.

The nine rivers that empty into Lake Texcoco from the east could be turned into greenways to connect people from further out in Mexico State to what would become the area’s largest public park.

Space could also be reserved for cultural attractions such as museums, open and accessible to passengers in transit.


New master plan

This idea is not as crazy as it sounds.

As early as 1998, Mexican architects Alberto Kalach and the late Teodoro González de León proposed rehabilitating the lakes of the Valley of Mexico. Their book, “The City and its Lakes,” even envisaged a revenue-generating island airport as part of this environmentally revitalized Lake Texcoco.

Under President Felipe Calderon, Mexico’s National Water Commission also proposed building an ecological park in Lake Texcoco, which was to include an island museum and restore long-degraded nearby agricultural land. But the project never gained traction.

Granted, turning a large, half-constructed airport into a national park would require an ambitious new master plan and a budget reallocation.

But in my opinion, evolution and change should be part of ambitious public designs. And this one is already expected to cost an additional $7.7bn to complete anyway.

Toronto’s Downsview Park – a 291-acre former air force base turned green space – has transformed so much since its conception in 1995 that its declared mission is now to “constantly develop, change and mature to reflect the surrounding community with each generation.”

Local communities neighboring Mexico City’s new airport were not adequately consulted about their needs, environmental concerns and their current stakes in the Lake Texcoco area. A revamped park plan could be truly inclusive, designed to provide recreation and urban infrastructure – and maybe even permanent jobs – for these underserved populations.

Presidential race

Three of the four candidates in Mexico’s July 1 presidential election wanted to finish Mexico City’s new international airport. But eventual winner López Obrador was not so sure.

Early in his campaign, he said he would cancel it if elected. Instead, López Obrador suggested, a former air force base could become the new international terminal. It would be connected to Benito Juárez airport, 22 miles south, by train.

López Obrador has since said he would support completing construction of the new international airport if the remaining financing came from the private sector, not the Mexican government. Currently, some two-thirds of the project is funded by future airport taxes.

The ConversationLópez Obrador’s promise to review and likely upend the airport plan could open the door to its wholesale transformation, putting people and nature are at the core of a plan ostensibly designed for the public good.

Gabriel Diaz Montemayor, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Texas at Austin

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.