What does feminist urban policy look like?

Yesterday I posted about Wonder Woman’s campaign for DC Mayor, and asked you all for feminist urban policy suggestions. There are some good ones in the comments, but I thought I’d get the ball rolling a little more by throwing out some of my own ideas. Add yours in the comments.

1. Comprehensive eviction prevention programs. This article is admittedly New York-centric, but I’d imagine there are similar patterns in DC. And as young, relatively wealthier people continue to move into cities, landlords have strong incentives to push out long-term lower-income tenants. Often, women are the heads of the low-income households that suffer most from gentrification. Establishing safeguards so that low-income tenants can maintain their residences is a crucial aspect of any progressive urban policy.

2. Health care. Well-funded, inclusive and sensitive community health centers that provide an array of services to patients regardless of immigration status or ability to pay are sorely needed in many urban areas. Centers that provide reproductive health care — including but certainly not limited to contraception, abortion, well-baby care, STI prevention and treatment, sexual health education and neo-natal care — are the obvious feminist focus, especially when they’re sensitive to the needs of all patients and can comprehensively serve immigrant and LGBT populations.

3. Violence prevention. More specifically, violence prevention that focuses on community-based solutions rather than just increased policing. Organizations like Day One in New York reach out to youth to both prevent violence and to help victims of violence get the legal help they need. Groups that focus on working with men to prevent violence are scarce but incredibly important. The already stretched-thin shelter system always needs more resources to help women and men escape violence. And we need more creative solutions that don’t put all the onus on women to leave, and that give women options other than calling the police.

4. Employment and public assistance. Helping local businesses stay afloat in tough economic times also helps to keep more women employed. When that fails, a public assistance system that has less red tape and bureaucracy is crucial in helping families — many of which are headed by women — to put food on the table.

5. Food policy. We hear quite a bit about the “American obesity crisis” and the negative effects that processed and unhealthy foods have on us. While I’m of course skeptical of the “obesity crisis” fat-shaming language, it is true that the cheapest food is often the worst for us, and that low-income and urban populations have a particularly difficult time accessing affordable, healthy food. That lack of access does have serious health consequences. Like the suggestions above, much of the problem comes from federal government policy — here in the form of farm subsidies, among other policies. But city governments can help by promoting local food production and garden-sharing, and by building more public spaces (and green spaces in particular). They can create incentives for local markets to serve low-income communities. They can do what Scott Stringer has tried to do in the Bronx — create a food infrastructure requirement as part of local Environmental Impact Standards. Again, it’s women who are often in charge of feeding their families, and who bear the burden of stretching a tight budget to make sure that there’s food on the table. It’s also women who are the most likely to forgo healthy food for themselves so that they can give it to their children and their partners. Fresh, affordable food in urban “food deserts” would help women and families to be healthier.

What else would go on your feminist urban policy wish list?

28 comments for “What does feminist urban policy look like?

  1. Literate Shrew
    July 8, 2009 at 10:26 am

    Affordable, quality day care for young children so that women don’t have to take an extra job just to afford to send their kids to day care. Maybe give subsidies to existing day cares so they can better serve their communities?

    Also services for new mothers, like wellness centers that focus on pregnant women and women with small children that support breast feeding and give that connection with other people that many new mothers lack and that is crucial to avoiding post-partum depression.

    5) Also a big fan of community gardens. (And thank you, Jill, for the anti-fat-hate language in this point.)

  2. July 8, 2009 at 10:43 am

    Childcare for SURE. Peep Sandra Susan Smith’s “Lone Pursuit.”–it’s about the job referral structure among poor blacks in a Michigan county. Her main policy recommendation is for better childcare services for poor women so they can find employment.

    Also incredibly important is a highly functioning and equitable mass transit system–maybe even a regional, metropolitan transit system connecting the suburbs to the inner city. More efficient public transportation makes it easier to find work, get to work, and manage the “double shift,” so to speak. Not to mention the tremendous environmental benefits, cutting down on carbon emissions etc.

  3. July 8, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Childcare, again, but also late-running, safe public transportation. If you’re a waitress in Boston, your shift might end after the T stops running at 1 or so. That leaves you with cabs (expensive to take), your own car (expensive to park and insure), rides from friends or coworkers (unreliable), or walking or bicycling (possibly unsafe, tiring). I’d also add comprehensive public transportation coverage. In NYC they’re cutting back on some service, and I specifically remember reading about how the nurses who commute from Queens to the nursing homes farther out on Long Island will no longer be able to get to work.

    Safe, comprehensive public transportation helps everyone near the cliff pop a little bit farther away from the edge.

  4. July 8, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Noting that I do not live in a country with an ADA:

    – Fully accessible transit system. All buses. All Metro. All Ferries. All aspects. All the time.
    – Funding to support small businesses who wish to upgrade to be fully accessible.
    – CURB CUTS. CURB CUTS. And side walk maintenance. Yes, everywhere.

  5. anon
    July 8, 2009 at 11:09 am

    Anna touches on accessibility which I was going to point out. Not just for wheelchair users, but as well for blind residents and deaf residents. For the latter, as an example, city services should have responsive email addresses and/or text messages. TTY’s are pretty much BS these days — few deaf people have them and most of the time if you actually call a TTY number there’s no reply at the other end cos no one’s monitoring it… So as an example if I get called to jury service, I should have the option of texting or emailing besides CALLING A FRIGGIN PHONE NUMBER. Ahem.

    (and I *do* live in a country with ADA *grouse*)

  6. tg
    July 8, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Add me to the chorus for the fully accessible, hours matching work schedules, public transportation, for all of the reasons given.

  7. bellareve
    July 8, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    Add me, too. Reliable public transit is SO important, especially for the poor and those with disabilities.

    Due to visual impairment, I cannot drive a car, so I depend on the bus to get to work, dr. appointments, etc. When it arrives late, doesn’t arrive at all, doesn’t stop remotely close to where I need to go, breaks down due to shoddy maintenance, or raises fares too much, I am out of a job, unable to pick up a prescription, and generally screwed.

    Because my ability to make a living has been entirely dependent on public transit, I have a hard time making ends meet. Which means: I can’t afford taxis, even in a pinch. Which means: I do a lot of walking, alone, at night, because I have to take any work shift I can get. Which means: I experience sexual harassment regularly.

    I am lucky in that I am able to walk long distances. Many pwd cannot. What are they supposed to do?

  8. Caro
    July 8, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    All this is great… I would also add reliable and convenient public transportation and better urban planning. See this post on why these issues are of particular importance to women’s lives: http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post.cgi?id=1699

  9. July 8, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Gotta second (third, fifth, etc.) affordable housing! And definitely day care. I like thefood policy, too!

    Now how about quality public schools, which includes higher pay for schoolteachers?! Give the urban public schools the same resources and same experienced teachers that the suburbs get.

    Zoning to promote livable urban neighborhoods that don’t require a car—it’s not just more (and accessible!) public transit that is needed, but shopping and services in the same zip code as residential neighborhoods (I live downtown–why the hell should I have to drive all over hell’s half acre to the sections of the city I can’t even dream of affording to live in in order to get groceries and other services?).

    Parks and recreation. Libraries (my city is considering closing the other two satellite branches of the public library; the one in my neighborhood was closed four years ago. The idea of closing the public library entirely is being floated, too). Let’s hear it for The Commons in all its (our!) glory!!

  10. July 8, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    YES on public transportation – that’s what I was going to suggest. I too rely fully on public transportation, and there could be a number of improvements. For example:

    – Public transportation available late nights and weekends
    – If it isn’t cost-feasible to provide this, then some form of shuttle service available on request after hours for the cost of a normal bus or subway ride
    – Public transportation that covers all parts of the metro area, including shuttle link ups if this is the most feasible method
    – Campaigns to reduce violence and non-physically-violent harassment on and around public transportation, including “see something say something” style campaigns to encourage people to call out harassers
    – Security, including drivers and station workers trained to discourage harassment

  11. anna.licious
    July 8, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    I’d love to see community gardens, murals and other projects that enhance and clean up urban environments…eradication of lead paint and other harmful materials most common in older housing, for example. Security, better maintenance and better lighting in housing projects- especially high rises with long, dark, dangerous stairways- would also be wonderful.

  12. July 8, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    I gotta say…I really like all of the support for public transit. There really seems to be a national push in this direction, from social justice, environmental, and economic perspectives alike. It also seems to be a goal of the Obama administration, albeit far behind his healthcare plans.

  13. Angiportus
    July 8, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    Bike trails, and fruit trees [and nut trees.]

  14. William
    July 8, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    How about reduced sales taxes? I know, I know, taxes generate revenue that is supposed to be used to provide services, but the sales tax in Chicago has gotten out of hand. 10.25% is the base rate, and if you happen to work downtown and need to get lunch that number goes up to 11.25% (or higher, depending on what you’re buying) with the city and country still crying that they’re bankrupt. A regressive tax is bad enough for people of limited means, but it downright crippling at this level.

  15. July 8, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    -I’d like to see programs that help get homeless men and boys off the street and get their medical care taken care of–including mental health. I think it ultimately helps women to have their husbands and sons get help.

    -Designing all new urban building around car-less living. Makes it much easier on the elderly, safer for children, and provides easy food access for all. Consider zoning existing neighborhoods as car-free.

    -Stop cutting gifted programs in city schools. These kids need the chance and the challenge the programs give them.

    -city support for community gardens in every “car free” zone to help with the “food desert” issues. A little pie-in the sky, yes, but you have to start somewhere. You won’t provide enough produce for everyone at first, but eventually you might be able to hit a respectable percentage.

  16. July 8, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    And as others have said, PUBLIC TRANSIT. NYC is cutting several important lines next year and fares have increased dramatically–and they are still one of the best systems in the country.

    I won’t even use the metro in my city because it is somewhat frightening as a woman alone–and I used to take the C at 12AM down to Bed-Sty.

  17. RD
    July 9, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    -agree with most of above
    -better treatment of and rights for sex workers especially street workers, survival workers, and other vulnerable populations (youth, trans, etc.) rights, working against violence and police brutality, etc., sex worker rights, health, safety
    -decriminalization (and all the smaller measures I’ve talked about before)
    -sex worker rights in housing, parenting, immigration, etc. laws too
    -repealing criminalization of poverty/quality of life laws
    -better shelter system, no 3/4 housing
    -many more things I could list….may list some more later…

  18. Dawn.
    July 9, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    Great article, Jill! I completely agree with all your suggestions and everyone else’s. As well as safe, reliable public transportation, I think separate bike lanes are really important for any urban center. Well-funded public libraries, community centers, and community gardens are essential too. I would love to see more mental health clinics and more dental/vision clinics in urban areas, because many middle or lower income people/families don’t have comprehensive health care, or (like in my case) no health insurance at all. And considering the recession, more temporary living shelters that are safe and clean in addition to homeless shelters, like the PODs that are designed like efficiencies with a kitchen, bathroom, and living area.

  19. July 10, 2009 at 12:40 am

    this is an amazing post and thread. seriously. thanks!

    • July 10, 2009 at 7:41 am

      I am loving this thread. Great suggestions.

      The single most important thing to me, when I was living in SoCal, was public transportation. Orange County had a pretty good bus system, but it was still a mile’s walk to the nearest stop, which wasn’t a high-traffic one so it didn’t come as often and required changing bus lines, which meant waiting however long until the next bus came, etc. It was exhausting to me. I ended up getting a car, but I wasn’t in an urban center, just suburban-style OC. So I didn’t have to find a parking garage and pay the space rental, deal with city traffic and parking prices, etc. I wrote more about that here.

      I live in Pittsburgh now, and we have the T — a trolley/train line. It doesn’t cover the whole city. The areas it covers, it is very useful. mattw and I live about a half hour south of the city, and we’ll drive up to a park-and-ride and take the trolley up into the city — for Penguins/Pirates games, for my job stuff (testing, interviews) and so forth — which makes things a lot easier on me not having to actually drive into the city and deal with everything that involves… but it only covers a certain part of the city. Other areas are served by the bus lines, which I never used — but a visiting friend did, and according to him it was just fucking atrocious.

      Our little mini-urban center south of Pittsburgh? There’s a bus service for PWD, but I’m honestly afraid to call for it, given that I don’t need a ramp and I look completely and totally “normal.” Despite this being a very urban-style town, there is no transportation otherwise. You gotta have a car or be able to walk long distances. If you have neither, you’re outta luck. I absolutely adore this little town (and we have a community garden next to the public housing now – yay!!) — its services for typically-underserved populations are absolutely amazing — but the transportation is crap.

      I am jealous of DC’s Metro, Chicago’s L and so forth. The Metro, when we spent time in DC — that was heaven to me as a PWD. Well served, well timed.

  20. RD
    July 10, 2009 at 9:45 am

    This is a great thread imo, lots of great posts.

  21. balance
    July 10, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    For the families lucky enough to have a yard, don’t let the city give them citations for weeds. Who has time to mow or spray or pull when they’re working and exhausted? Or ill? It’s a kick while you’re down to get a ticket for the state of your freaking yard (or apartment balcony). If the neighbors want it kept up for property values, they should organize a neighborhood service group to help you if you need help, rather than report you. Using the land for shared gardens would also help with this. As would making it legal to grow veggie gardens in your front yard. You should be able to use any part of your property for growing food.

    I agree with the support for public transit (all hours!!! safe!!!) and child care (extremely important for enabling moms to work!!!) and quality schools (DUH).

    I’d add quality community colleges. The one in my city is inexpensive and great. A Pell Grant pretty much covers my tuition and books. I’d like to see good colleges available for everyone.

    Also, workplaces that aren’t oppressive. Give women family time off for times their kids need their mom, vacation, benefits. Don’t make them jump to a factory whistle and penalize them for every little slip-up like being two minutes late, etc. Hey, how about a LIVING WAGE? How about treating people like people, not peons? This would go a long way to helping us have good mental health and less stress (less child abuse, too) and keep a job because we can stand it.

    And up the support for women starting their own businesses. Buy-Local campaigns that encourage us all to support the business of our neighbors, rather than chain stores or online behemoths.

    There are so many things…

    • July 10, 2009 at 3:19 pm

      Support for small business seems something to consider, too. Driving around my little urban center, I see a considerable amount of closed storefronts. Most of them, perhaps unsurprisingly, are things like hair salons, clothing shops, something hobby/craft related, etc…

  22. July 11, 2009 at 12:13 am

    My thoughts on this: Caregiving in Context: A Powered Woman


  23. Rena
    July 11, 2009 at 1:39 am

    This is just good urban policy, I don’t think it has to relate specifically to women. There needs to be a good public support network that reaches both men and women when they need it. I don’t think it furthers the cause to call it ‘womens’ urban policy. Are we over the gender differences yet?

  24. Politicalguineapig
    July 11, 2009 at 11:11 am

    Lights, lots of lights. And I think it would be kind of cool if there was a male curfew once a week

  25. Nicole
    July 14, 2009 at 10:36 am

    I agree with the childcare issue. It’s a big deal everywhere especially here in New York. Also more funding for rent subsidies like section8 . There are alof of women, single mothers in the shelter system here in New York. Path in the Bronx is a complete nightmare!

  26. July 14, 2009 at 10:44 am

    I agree 100% with the childcare issue. It seems to be a big deal everywhere, especially here in New York City. There also need to be more money put into affordable housing, and rent subsidy programs like section 8. There are so many women, and single moms in the shelter system. There doesn’t seem to be any housing programs for them.

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