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If women planned cities they would like this: Lerato Peu

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South Africa’s cities were not designed with women in mind. From insufficient pavements and safe walking spaces to scarce public toilets and family facilities, the country’s cities do not factor in the needs of the women and children who use them.

So, how would our cities differ if they were designed by women? We asked Lerato Peu, Executive Director of Urban Development and Planning at Merafong Local City Municipality what her city design would entail. These are her plans:

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The voice of women within the planning and engineering spaces is yet to be heard, especially within the private sector. A few individuals have made strides, but is nowhere near where we ought to be. I think this is important, given that women generally bear the brunt of poor planning.

If I were to design a city, it would be based on the core principles of structural resilience and social justice. From the onset, the design, and look and feel of the cities must be able to weather all sorts of pressures. The cases of New York, London, and to a large extent Cape Town, and how they have remained resilient and relevant over time, come to mind.

There has to be a consistent and deliberate intention to continuously support and reengineer the cities, otherwise they become economic risks for investors and uncontrollable liabilities for the government.

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In terms of social justice, women should never be intimidated when walking alone at night in any major city. This is the ideal city.

I would want my daughters to be live in spaces (cities) that symbolise:

•National strength through equality between races, classes, and sexes through design.

•Economic empowerment where cities offer ample opportunities for all its people.

•Sustainable spaces where people work, live play and learn.

•On the lighter side, we want cities to have a sense of identity, to be able to offer cultural experiences through music and art.

Some of the major social ills facing South Africa today include poverty, unemployment and inequality, and cities should be responsive in dealing with these challenges as they affect women most. Even though all major cities predate democracy, it is imperative that authorities prioritise the continuous modelling of cities to suit current trends and social needs.

Our cities should be accessible to accommodate various means of transport within a systematically friendly hierarchy of arterials for both the pedestrian and the motorist. The design should support economic and social integration between the motorist and pedestrian. The case today is that most cities are designed for the motorist, not so much the street vendor, the cyclist and pedestrian.

Cities should not only be places of work but should promote mixed-use areas for various income groups. The cases of Johannesburg and Cape Town are a classic example of two cities that offer residence for two extreme ends of the income spectrum. While Johannesburg is affordable, most of the residents are lower-income groups and illegal occupants of buildings with zero-little tenure/ownership. Cape Town on the other hand is unattainable to the average local.

The layout of cities should be such as to expose criminal activity and offer high levels of public safety and interaction. Social amenities also play an important role in the functionality of cities.

Given that families interact with cities on a daily basis, it is only common sense to have more parks, museums and restaurants spread across the entire city.

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