Lucy Turnbull: The Importance of Prioritising Women in Our Cities


Greater Sydney Commissioner Lucy Turnbull looks at our cities through the lens of being ‘female-friendly’. Ken Morrison, Chief Executive of the Property Council of Australia, says it is only by trying to see our communities through the eyes of others that we can make them more liveable for everyone. Lucy Turnbull asks some great questions and reflects on her own experiences raising two children.


Looking at the design of our cities through a female lens can help us create places that are more inclusive, accessible, safe and economically productive, says Greater Sydney Commissioner Lucy Turnbull AO.

Understanding the challenges of pushing a pram along a busy street can change the way we think about the design of our cities.

This was certainly the case for the former Lord Mayor of Sydney, who says she experienced the “planning shortcomings” of the city first-hand when her son Alex was a baby.

“I needed to transport him around Sydney in his pram and this often turned into quite a mission thanks to sometimes impassable footpaths or difficult access through city spaces,” she says.

Turnbull became an advocate of what she calls the “female-friendly city” – a design approach which considers women’s perspectives and needs to ensure they can safely access services like transport, healthcare and employment with the same ease and opportunity as men.

Research by the Greater Sydney Commission has found that women move across the city and use its range of services and facilities more often than men, and they do so more frequently for tasks related to work, education, children and, increasingly, caring for older family members.

“A city that is designed to be well-connected, walkable and safe is also a liveable and productive one,” Turnbull explains.

While women tend to have more varied patterns of movement, a dimly-lit bus stop, a desolate train station or a walkway filled with potholes can all impede that movement.

Turnbull says asking some simple questions – “will women want to be here?”, “does this make it easier for women?”, “will a stroller fit through this gap?” or “will women feel safe here at night?” – can lead to better design outcomes.

The city administrators in Vienna, for example, have spent the good part of two decades redesigning its streets and parks in response to the concerns of its female residents.

Extra lighting has made walking safer at night, sidewalks have been widened to improve pedestrian access and ramps have been installed near busy intersections. More than 60 pilot projects have been undertaken throughout the Austrian capital, and it’s no coincidence Vienna routinely tops the table of the world’s most liveable cities.

Women can be a bellwether for planning priorities such as safety or accessibility, and Turnbull says there is “nothing exclusionary” about the idea of a female-friendly city.

“Quite the opposite. A city that works well for women leads to better planning outcomes for the young, the elderly and families too.”


Female-centric design can also act as a driver for economic productivity, she adds.

Professor Barbara Pocock, director of the University of South Australia's Centre for Work and Life, has found that long commutes and limited job opportunities in the outer suburbs of Australian cities has restricted the employment opportunities for many mothers. Women with primary responsibility for young children often need to be within a short commute, something Pocock has dubbed the “spatial leash”.

“A female city creates a diversity of job types and provides support to working families,” Turnbull says. She points to the Australian Government’s commitment, made in 2014, to reduce the gap in workplace participation rates between men and women by 25 per cent by 2025.

The design of our cities will play a “critical role” in meeting this objective, she says, as women need childcare, schools and “other supporting infrastructure like supermarkets, medical facilities and entertainment” close to where they live and work.

Turnbull says the concept of a “female-friendly city” can be a metric with which to measure the success of our cities for all people.

“If we are considering urbanism through a female lens, we might also pause to see our city growth and plans through the eyes of the young, the old, the disabled, the disadvantaged or the culturally diverse.”

This makes city-shaping more complex, she concedes.

“But to be truly smart, a city should not just cope with, but revel in and feed off, understand, respond to and thrive on this complexity.

“A city that works for women is one that works for everyone.”

Source: Property Council of Australia

Main image copyright: denyskuvaiev / 123RF Stock Photo

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