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Make Space For Girls | 5 minutes with Founder Susannah Walker

Posted on 01.03.2024 in Company News , design , park design , parks week , playgorund

In recent years, there has been a growing emphasis on designing with a gender lens, recognising the importance of considering gender-related factors in the planning and development of spaces. When designing parks for teenagers, councils and developers typically focus on four things: a skate park, a multi-use games arena, a BMX track or a Ninja Park. However, a majority of these spaces primarily cater to boys. With only 3.7% of Australian teenage girls meeting the national activity guidlines, thoughtful design can help to address the barriers to women’s participation in public spaces and parks (ABS, 2022).

One company that is making waves globally in this space is UK charity Make Space For Girls. Make Space for Girls are an organisation that campaign and provide practical support for parks and public spaces to be designed for girls and young women, not just boys and young men.

Susannah Walker, Co-founder, of Make Space For Girls varied career has included working in museums, as a tv producer for the BBC and Channel 4 and writing several books. She became outraged when she realised that not only had her local council only provided outdoor facilities for teenage boys, they didn’t propose to do anything about it either.  She particularly enjoys gathering data and finding great examples of spaces for teenage girls from other countries. We were lucky enough to speak with Susannah on Make Space For Girls, her favourite case studies and delve into her research.

1. How did ‘Make Space for Girls’ start? Was it a single moment that sparked it?

Susannah: It was very much a single moment, from reading ‘Invisible Women’ by Caroline Criado Perez.  One section of this is about parks.  I’m a feminist, and have a teenage daughter but I’d never thought about it before.  From that point on I couldn’t unsee the inequality.

2. Since the early 1990s, Vienna has incorporated gender mainstreaming into its parks, Einsidedler Park in particular. What are some of the easy initiatives they undertook to enhance the girl-friendliness of the park? 

Susannah: Their two first steps were really important.  One was to put some really simple features – hammocks and play pieces – into the park to encourage the girls to linger a bit more.  The second was to talk to the girls, in order to find out what the barriers and issues were.  Based on this they then redesigned the MUGA space, creating more entrances and dividing it up into two separate areas, one of which didn’t have pitch lines on it, making more room for uses other than football.

3. Swings seem to be a favourite amongst teenage girls, are there any other playground pieces that come second?

Susannah: Based on our work with teenage girls and other research, trampolines and social seating are very popular, and there is often a general request for playful equipment and spaces rather than sports facilities.  Also, a perimeter path around the edge of a park has been proven to work well for women as well as girls.

4. For local councils wanting to implement gender-inclusive guidelines, what strategic and practical steps would you recommend as the first step?

Susannah: I think the first answer is just to bring it to people’s attention. The inequality in provision isn’t deliberate, it just happens because people haven’t looked at the spaces through the lens of gender.  Once they do, they usually want to make things more inclusive.

5. Do you have a particular case study or success story that is your favourite? If so, why do you love it?

Susannah: I think there are two.  One is the Frizon space in Umeå in Sweden, because it’s a beautiful thing but has also succeeded in creating a space that works for teenage girls even in the dark of Swedish winter.  The second is a shelter in Oxford, because it was the first thing co-designed by teenage girls in the UK, and it shows how even a simple intervention can be important.

6. For anyone involved in the parks industry, what are three simple steps they can take to start making space for girls?

Susannah:

A. Read up on the issue, find out more, talk to people about it – raise awareness

B. Talk to teenage girls locally – find out what they want and need

C. Don’t just reach for the usual solutions – we don’t want to get rid of MUGAs and skateparks, but let’s have some more variety!

 

Click here to see more Case Studies and Design Guidlines by Make Space For Girls

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