Women in Urban Management: Six Names That Changed the Game

In different parts of the world, women are transforming cities and taking up spaces in urban planning and management as never before. Paris, Barcelona and Rome, for example, in addition to being cities where almost anyone would like to live, are now cities managed by women for the first time in their history, all in their second term. Major changes and currently celebrated plans, such as the “15-minute city” in Paris, the opening of Times Square to the people in New York, and the urban digitization of Barcelona as a smart city, were led by women.

However, this new urban paradigm seems far from the Brazilian reality. Despite constituting more than 51.8% of the population and more than 52% of the Brazilian electorate, women are still a minority in elective positions in municipal administration. In the 2020 elections, there was a record record of female candidates in the dispute for Brazilian mayors and municipal chambers. However, besides the gap between the number of candidates and elected candidates, the number of women represents only a third of the total candidacy (33.6%).

At the end of 2020, only nine women were elected mayors in Brazil's 96 largest cities. In the capitals, women contested the election in only five of the 25 state ones, and only one of them is ahead of a city hall in 2021: Cinthia Ribeiro, re-elected in Palmas, Tocantins. Currently, out of every 100 Brazilian prefectures, only 12 are headed by women. This number is practically the same as in 2016, showing an insignificant growth when compared to the last elections. The mayors are currently 651 women (12.1%) in contrast to 4,750 men (87.9%).

Data prove that Brazilian cities are historically and predominantly managed by men, who, consequently, make the main decisions about resources and essential aspects for life in cities, defining their paths and conditions on which the population will live. While women are the majority in the population, their presence and impact in cities, whether from an economic, social or cultural perspective, is not reflected in decision-making and in the occupation of these spaces of power over the city.

In addition to mayors and deputy mayors, other actors in non-elective functions and positions of city management are also important for the execution and management of public services and urban infrastructure to guarantee the well-being of the population, such as civil servants, secretaries, department managers and different advisors. Regardless of the size and complexity of a city, the mayor does not govern alone. Countless women helped change the reality of their cities in positions like these, including in Brazil.

Although our list is far from exhaustive, we present six women who have made a difference in contemporary urban management, who, regardless of their ideological views and parties, their mistakes and successes, have become a reference in different parts of the world. Meet them:

Janette Sadik-Khan

If you can change the street, you can change the world.

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With a degree in Political Science and a Master's in Law, Janette Sadhik-Khan was New York's Secretary of Transportation from 2007 to 2013, during the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. With her projects, she transformed the city scene, favoring pedestrians, cyclists and the use of public transport, always focusing on urban sustainability and quick and cheap solutions. In her role, she reduced car lanes, created dozens of pedestrian plazas, shared lanes, hundreds of bike lanes, a BRT network and collaborated to implement the largest bike-sharing program in the country, increasing circulation on the streets, socializing in public spaces, opening space for people and encouraging local commerce.

In addition, she developed and published New York City's first Street Design Manual and Street Works Manual, setting new standards for creating stronger, more attractive streets. She became known worldwide as responsible for pedestrianizing Times Square, closing it to cars, and redesigning Broadway. Part of her legacy has been to help make the city one of the most bike-friendly capitals in the United States. In an interview with WRI Brasil, she stated:

New Yorkers, as well as Porto Alegre residents and other members of Brazilian cities, are tired of waiting for change. They have waited many years. So many things have changed in cities, and yet the streets haven't changed. So, there is an incredible opportunity to work quickly to make changes that alter spaces with a certain immediacy. And you can do it. It doesn't take decades and it doesn't take millions of dollars. It takes paint, tables and chairs, and it takes a vision for what you want the city to be. Therefore, having a strategy for a more walkable, more livable and healthier city is the starting point. And immediately afterwards, to show people what that means and what it can mean, by creating these showcases, these invitations for people to use their cities in a new way and make it easier and more accessible to get around. That's the secret ingredient.

Janette Sadik-Khan currently advises city mayors around the world as a director at Bloomberg Associates. Her book “Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution“ is available on Amazon.

Ada Colau

This is the century of cities and women.

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In 2015, housing rights activist Ada Colau became the first woman elected mayor of Barcelona, one of the world's top smart cities, and was re-elected to the post in 2019. Colau has focused much of her efforts on improving housing in the city, the expansion of governance, encouraging participatory processes and greater transparency, and the redefinition of the smart city so that this model serves citizens and not technology. To that end, she worked with technology professionals and developers of new tools and instruments, such as the Decidim platform. Through it, citizens can access information and participate by suggesting ideas, debating, responding to public consultations and making propositions. The government, on the other hand, uses the platform to create its agenda based on citizen participation. In an interview, she defended:

When you are an activist, you are situated in a very concrete place, defending, in my case, the right of people robbed by banks and threatened with eviction: you demand that public administrations do their job properly and take the side of the people and not the aggressors. . On the other hand, when you become mayor, you are responsible for trying to generate consensus, for making the administration work as well as possible and for representing the majority of the population in their basic rights, whether or not they agree with you.

In her first term, one of Ada Colau's priorities was the consolidation of Barcelona as a leading city in the fields of innovation, knowledge and research. Now, in her second term, during the pandemic, the mayor seeks to boost the post-Covid economy through green technologies, sustainable industry and transport, making the city's transition to a circular economy.

Last year, Barcelona launched a 10-year plan to reclaim city streets from cars and reduce pollution by creating green spaces and public squares. A “superblock” plan that groups together nine blocks will transform the entire downtown network into a greener and more pedestrian-friendly area, with bike lanes, leisure areas and almost no cars. The design of squares and spaces will be decided in a public tender. The main results expected from this change are the increase in public spaces in the city and the reduction of pollution rates. Barcelona has taken advantage of the inevitable changes brought about by the pandemic to promote changes that will guarantee a better future.

Francesca Bria

My goal is to understand how technology can serve people.

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An advocate of digital democracy, the Italian Francesca Bria had completed her PhD in Innovation Economics at Imperial College London and was working in the United Kingdom when she presented, in Madrid, a project for the protection of citizens' data that caught the attention of Ada Colau. The then Mayor of Barcelona proposed to Francesca the challenge of creating a new digital strategy for one of the world's leading smart cities.

As Chief Technology and Digital Innovation Officer (CTO) of the City of Barcelona, Bria has led major research and innovation projects related to digital sovereignty, digital democracy, digital empowerment and cryptographic platforms, such as the Decentralized Citizens Owned Data Ecosystem (DECODE), which uses decentralized technologies (such as blockchain) to help citizens better control their data. Bria became known as the “Robin Hood of data” for advocating that data is public infrastructure, belongs to citizens and not to tech giants:

We don't want an Uber, an Airbnb, a Google to run everything. We want to open this data, preserving privacy, and share it with local industries, startups, cooperatives and citizens themselves, so that they can build the added value, the applications, on this data. We want competition over data for services and we want to give all this talent a chance.

In the quest to integrate citizens into urban governance and encourage democracy, the CTO team carried out 16 participatory processes at the same time in the city, in areas such as culture, mobility, digital education and urbanism. Some of the resources used were participatory budgeting, public fab labs, and public-private partnerships. As a result of their work, there has been a fundamental shift in the relation between the public sector, the private sector and the citizens of Barcelona.

Currently, Francesca is President of the National Innovation Fund of Italy, Senior Consultant on Digital Cities and Digital Rights at the United Nations, Consultant to the European Commission and Professor at different universities. Her book “A cidade inteligente: Tecnologias urbanas e democracia” [The Smart City: Urban Technologies and Democracy] is available on Amazon.

Anne Hidalgo

Forget about crossing Paris by car.

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Born in Spain and raised in Lyon, France, lawyer Anne Hidalgo is the first woman to govern the city of Paris in history, being re-elected, in 2020, for her second term. The essence of the first term was to fight pollution and promote the transformation of Paris into a greener and more sustainable city.

Despite facing strong opposition and legal obstacles imposed by the car lobby, when she took over the mayor's office in 2014, among other measures, Anne Hidalgo proposed the permanent pedestrianization of the banks of the River Seine, a privileged and iconic space in the French capital. It also banned, on weekdays, the circulation of gasoline-powered vehicles manufactured before 1997 and diesel-powered vehicles manufactured before 2001, in order to reduce pollution and congestion in the city. Paris must eliminate diesel-powered vehicles by 2024 and gasoline-powered vehicles by 2030.

For her second term, the central axis of Hidalgo’s campaign, called Paris in Common, was the proposal to transform the twenty arrondissements of the capital into self-sufficient communities in terms of access to amenities, the so-called “15-minute city”. The aim is to enable citizens to access schools, offices, commerce, leisure and other amenities with just a short walk or bike ride from their home, promoting the well-being of the community.

The project diverges from the “car age” planning that separates different activities into areas of the city - such as exclusively residential areas - and, consequently, increases distances and makes access to basic functions difficult. Hidalgo had already been fighting, in her first term, for more space for people on the streets and less for cars, through investments in bike lanes, pedestrianization and public transport. She also decided to remove half of the city's 140,000 parking spaces to make it more pedestrian and cyclist friendly.

The “15-minute city” depends on the development of socially and economically mixed districts, where citizens can find essential items for everyday life, shortening commutes, integrating homes, schools, businesses, restaurants and green areas, and reducing traffic and pollution to increase the population's quality of life.

Hildago also recently announced that the Champs-Élysées, the most famous and traditional avenue in the French capital, will be transformed into an 'extraordinary garden'. The €200 million renovation is linked to the 2024 Summer Olympics that will take place in the city.

Clara Muzzio

I work for a sustainable and high-quality public space.

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During the coronavirus pandemic, the Minister of Public Space and Urban Hygiene of the city of Buenos Aires, Clara Muzzio, adopted temporary, economic, replicable and rapid measures in public spaces in the Argentine capital, aiming to promote social distancing and promote centralities that avoid displacement. Without the resources of large European cities and in a period of economic recession, major transformations in urban space were discarded, but the expansion of sidewalks, new pedestrian paths, use of public spaces for outdoor gastronomy and maximum speeds were some of the measures adopted in this city where more than 6 million people walk through every day.

Carolina Tohá

I didn't get into politics, politics got into my life.

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Lawyer Carolina Tohá, the daughter of one of the victims of the Pinochet regime, spent several years of her youth in exile in Mexico (1974-1979) after her father's murder. Upon returning to Chile, she became actively involved in democracy restoration movements in the country. Tohá contributed, together with politicians and activists, to the overthrow of Pinochet, making possible the rebirth of Chile. She then went to study Political Science in Milan. Back in her country, she served in ministries, in the national congress and in other government roles, until becoming the first woman to be elected by the vote to be Mayor of Santiago, in December 2012. In an interview, she explained:

“In my career I have been in different spaces - governor, congressman, president of my party, but I wanted to see how politics worked with real people in the territories. In territories you have the opportunity to see all policies interacting together with greater possibility of making changes and with greater complexity. The reality is more complicated in the territories than in the ministry, where you see silos – health, education. For one person, in one day, all policies come together.”

In the area of mobility, one of the major problems of the Chilean capital, it promoted different interventions to improve the urban space, creating new green areas and improving lighting, sidewalks, cycling infrastructure and public transport. The manager also took a four-fold approach:

(I) The Pro-Bike Plan to promote cycling as a valid means of transport (beyond leisure and sport purposes) by creating a network of interlinked bike lanes that doubled the municipality’s cycle path network and established a public bike share, and;

(IV) An educational strategy focused on schools and children to change cultural paradigms about transport as a fundamental driving force of sustainable mobility. It sought to replace the car as a symbol of success.

The results achieved were: a 50% reduction in public transport travel time, a doubling of the number of pedestrians circulating, a 45% decrease in traffic accidents, a 300% increase in bicycle use in the municipality, reduction in noise levels in streets and wider sidewalks led to a 20% to 30% increase in sales.

As a result of Tohá's work at the head of the mayor's office, the Chilean capital was the winner of the 2017 Sustainable Transport Award.

Via Urban Studies.

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Cite: Depiné, Ágatha. "Women in Urban Management: Six Names That Changed the Game" [Mulheres na gestão urbana: seis nomes que mudaram o jogo] 16 Mar 2022. ArchDaily. (Trans. Simões, Diogo) Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/978387/women-in-urban-management-six-names-that-changed-the-game> ISSN 0719-8884

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