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Inclusive infrastructure

Karima Palafox“If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.”—Fred Kent, Project for Public Spaces

THE 21st century is seeking to realign the economic role of women in a rapidly changing world. Infrastructure not only creates economic growth through job opportunities, but also transforms the lives of people (either positively or negatively). Empowering women means enabling them to make strategic life choices, which they were once denied. As more women are given access to education and economic power, they have become an important indicator on whether a city is doing well or not in terms of economic wealth and performance.

The rising number of women joining the workforce is a great indicator for the Philippines, but they are now inclined to use public transportation more than ever. Given the hourlong traffic jams caused by road-infrastructure projects in Metro Manila, we are held back a couple of hours every day as we commute to and from work. Add this all up and it equates to hundreds of hours lost that could’ve been spent on quality time with families and on much-needed sleep.

More often than not, infrastructure projects around the world fail to recognize the importance and effect of gender-targeted and gender-sensitive infrastructure in the long run and only focus on approving projects that would increase the total length of roads constructed. In my experience as an urban and environmental planner, strong implementation forged by a solid public-private partnership, stakeholder engagement, policy support, understanding and embracing new technologies, and strategic planning are the other crucial factors needed in order for an infrastructure project to succeed.

Just as important is the quality of the projects themselves. In the Urban Land Institute’s Infrastructure 2014: Shaping a Competitive City report, the top driver of real-estate investment in a city is high-impact and high-quality infrastructure projects. Consumer demand came in second and the availability of a skilled workforce came in third. What’s interesting in the report is the respondents’ (public servants, real-estate developers and investors, and city leaders) belief that improved public-transport services (especially bus and rail) is a high infrastructure priority. Also high on the list are improved pedestrian infrastructure, more parks and open spaces, and improved bicycle infrastructure and services.

We have to check our national budget and expenses. How much of total spending in transport is for improving services for the preferred modes of transport (rail, bus, cycling and walking)? Compare that with the number of commuters in the Philippines. The National Statistical Coordination Board and lawyer Antonio “Tony” Oposa Jr. of the Share the Road movement estimate private car ownership to be only 1 percent to 2 percent.

Indicator species

IN many cities around the world, women are being used as an “indicator species” to determine whether a city has well-planned, well-designed sustainable spaces. For example, according to a Scientific American article, women are considered an indicator species for bike-friendly cities. “Studies across disciplines as disparate as criminology and child­rearing have shown that women are more averse to risk than men. In the cycling arena, that risk aversion translates into increased demand for safe bike infrastructure as a prerequisite for riding. Women also do most of the child care and household shopping, which means these bike routes need to be organized around practical urban destinations to make a difference,” the article states.

Gender-sensitive pedestrian infrastructure is one of our standards when planning compact developments and cities. Last month the first pedestrian bridge that Palafox Associates designed for Ecobridges Ads was opened in the City of Manila at no cost to the city government or to taxpayers. Bridges like it help promote the safety, convenience and comfort of all pedestrians. Facilities include 24-hour security guards, security cameras, energy-efficient lights and landscaping. They are to be situated in streets with fast-moving vehicles and in streets that pose a high risk for flooding. They were designed with people in mind, people of different ages, gender and mobility requirements.

In a 15-year study conducted by the World Bank on Gender Infrastructure, results show that gender-sensitive infrastructure projects help women overcome some of their own barriers, reduce time constraints, connect them to new economic opportunities, and invest in strengthening their collective action and linkages to wider networks. However, to design and deliver infrastructure services effectively, governments, planners and service providers need to know their real clients. Men and women are more likely to use services that match their needs and preferences. We need to create a strategic, implementable and inclusive plan to address the sad state of our transport infrastructure.

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Karima Palafox is the managing partner of Palafox Associates and director of the Palafox Architecture Group and a founding trustee of Business and Professional Women (BPW) Makati. She is a registered urban planner in the Philippines and the United Kingdom.

This article reflects her opinion and is not the official stand of BPW. Women Stepping Up is a rotating column of members of BPW Makati that comes out twice a month.

For more information on BPW Makati, visit www.womensteppingup.org.

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