Over the past couple of months we have been conducting a survey of all Urbanistas worldwide. We are thrilled with the growth of Urbanistas across the UK and here in Sydney and the way in which women across the nine chapters have enthusiastically embraced the Urbanistas philosophy of sharing, support and positive action #startbystarting.
This was our first annual survey and we got 65 responses - with almost half came from the Sydney chapter. So thanks to everyone that participated and representing Sydney (might only be a survey, but love beating the Poms!). A summary of the key survey results are below.
The information will provide valuable insights moving forward. It will help us grow the global network, but also the Sydney chapter in a way that reflects our values, the broad range of issues and interests and continue to amplify the voice of women.
Last Thursday I said good bye to a remarkable woman and friend, Robyn Kemmis. Robyn was the Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney who ‘quietly’ made significant contributions to the public service, the academic community and in local government during her career.
As I heard eulogies and tributes about the important and lasting accomplishments Robyn had made, it was feminist and journalist Dr Anne Summers’ tribute to Robyn entitled ‘Friendship and Feminism’ that got me thinking about the women’s movement, how it connected Robyn and Anne and what those ideals mean to women today.
Anne first met Robyn and her partner Lynne in the early 1970s. She’d just arrived in Sydney to start a new life and knew very few people. Anne had sought out members of the Sydney women’s movement in the hope of finding “friendship and political solace”. Anne described it as a “small band of women warriors who were trying to change the world while at the same time doing their best to re-invent themselves” and together over the years, this group of warriors made some remarkable achievements.
One in particular was the establishment of Elsie Refuge in 1974 when they broke into two cottages in Westmoreland Street in Glebe, (Sydney’s inner west) claiming squatters’ rights and opened the houses up to women and children escaping domestic violence. The refuge was the first of its kind, and served to inspire other women around the world to recreate the service model in their local areas.
They had the kind of camaraderie that came from engaging in struggle together, a desire to ‘disrupt’ the status quo and achieve positive social change.
Interestingly, what we also discovered was that Robyn and Lynne had prior experience in these sort of ‘occupying’ endeavours. Years earlier while living in London they broke into a vacant house in Earlham Street, Covent Garden as squatters. While Lynne managed to do the electrical rewiring necessary to make the place habitable, the house became the base for the first Women’s Liberation Workshop Forum in London.
It was when Anne expressed her hope that younger generations of women were also forming for themselves these connections and enduring friendships that it clicked. I realised how vitally important Urbanistas was to women now, how it embraced similar ideals and intentions to the women’s movement of Robyn, Lynne and Anne’s generation. It is this camaraderie and the connections created through similar interests and a desire to create positive change that Urbanistas Sydney and the chapters across the UK are gaining so much traction.
I know women today struggle with the idea of what the women’s movement means in the current context. We’ve had so many new exciting developments, and taken enormous strides to even out the playing field. Yet women still have to fight societal, personal and attitudinal barriers to get as many opportunities and have influence – as leaders, decision makers, role models - which makes the women’s movement still very relevant today, albeit redefined from that of the 1960’s and 70’s and where Urbanistas comes in - subtly, supportively.
A core philosophy of Urbanistas is the recognition that despite there being an abundance of women doing great things in each of our cities, we are still largely underrepresented - as leaders, as innovators, as voices in decision making. This is why Urbanistas brings women together to share ideas and projects and actions. It provides a supportive environment for women to realise the positive influence they are capable of creating, to build and amplify a collective voice to achieve positive change in their cities, local places and communities.
Urbanistas Sydney provides a space for ideas to grow and take their own shape. It empowers women and inspires them to act. I’ve been to plenty of Urbanistas Sydney meet-ups and witnessed an amazing group of women sharing ideas, asking other women for help to develop and deliver their ideas. This is when the Urbanistas magic starts to work.
Place makers, geographers, strategists, social entrepreneurs, youth workers, planners, urban designers, architects, policy wonks, just to name a few, collaborate to help each other take an idea where it needs to go - and beyond. Women find the advice they need, whether it’s a contact, moral support, feedback, or technical assistance. The important difference is that Urbanistas brings together women with different interests, a variety of voices and opinions to ‘crowdsource’ expertise and knowledge and make things happen.
It was the last ‘pitch’ event of 2015 where the Urbanistas magic burned so brightly. Scores of interesting and passionate women jumped up to share their ideas for help and advice, much was impromptu and unplanned. The room was buzzing with new ways of thinking, but most importantly the room was buzzing with camaraderie and support. Women reached out for help and the ‘sisterhood’ came to life. Enduring friendships were formed.
Having shared my own ideas with these women for a project to advance social justice, I walked away feeling empowered and feeling inspired. Most importantly, I walked away feeling connected to of a network women who supported my values, my idea and the project that I felt so strongly about. In that moment I felt these new connections and subsequent friendships could change the world – and I know together we will.
I also know that this confidence that we can change the world would evoke that throaty chuckle of Robyn’s and she would wholeheartedly love seeing Urbanistas Sydney and other chapters globally continue to amplify the voice of women.
Author: Mariana Ivantsoff
Policy Advisor to former DLM, Robyn Kemmis and Urbanistas Sydney member.
Image: Mardi Gras 2015 (Left to Right: Mariana Ivantsoff, Robyn Kemmis, April McCabe)
The first annual End of Year Social capped off a brilliant year for Urbanistas Sydney. On the back of the successful relaunch in September it seems that our positive aim of connecting women by supporting ideas, projects and actions and philosophy of #startbystarting is gaining momentum.
The End of Year Social was a great way to celebrate the great things of 2015 with other Urbanistas over a beverage (or 2). It was great to also introduce so many new women into our growing network and continue to diversify Urbanistas in terms of skills, expertise, interests and ideas - all which is what makes Urbanistas work - and start talking about the program for 2016.
We also had the Fantastic Five Urbanistas pitch their ideas and projects which sparked a lot of lively discussion. The ideas and projects pitched were:
Street Libraries: is a new network of free and public book shares that we are trying to get into as many communities as possible. You can make your own or get involved in a makers workshop or just use an old bookshelf you already have. If you would like to get involved and to keep up to date with all things street libraries contact the guys via the website. The next 'Build Yourself a Street Library' workshop is 31 January 2016. Early Bird tickets are available now through Eventbrite.
Jane Jacobs Walk: is a global festival held annually on 6, 7, 8th May. Jane’s Walk is a movement of free, citizen-led walking tours inspired by Jane Jacobs (the original Urbanista). The walks get people to tell stories about their communities, explore their cities, and connect with neighbours. Bonnie is planning on hosting a walk around Kings Cross for the 2016 festival (so plenty of time to get a group together and lead a walk) and it would be great if others were interested in hosting other walks in different places of Sydney. If you are interested in leading a walk, have an idea for a walk or just want to help out in some way, contact Bonnie at firstname.lastname@example.org
Changing Perceptions: is a photography exhibition idea that changes perceptions through telling the great stories about the migrants and their contribution in our society. I’d also love for this project to activate a space and bring people together. The theme of the photographs is to juxtapose the current frustrations and negative perceptions perpetuated by current government policy (ie. asylum seeker policy; environmental attitudes; democratic expression of citizens) and the media with the positive stories and examples from our local community.
Expertise and things that are needed to turn this idea into a reality are: help defining the project and content ideas that meet the brief; actually taking photos (enthusiasts, amateurs and professionals all welcome) and how best to develop them; figuring out what kind of material to use to mount the photos; and finding an exhibition space. If you are interested, have the specific skills needed or just want to get involved, contact Mariana at email@example.com
Sydney X Rides: is an initiative to get Sydney moving onto bike riding as a lifestyle. We encourage the "no lycra" choose your own style rule but don't discriminate against them. The Sydney X Rides crew want to create a platform that curates themed rides, and events to expose safe routes and journeys. Themes range from food rides, nature rides, social rides, night rides.The help that Jules and Marie are looking for includes information about interesting places, rides in Sydney where we can ride out to. Potential funding for some upkeep of the site and gear.
Information about what prevents people from riding and what we can do to encourage ridership. Doesn't matter if you are an experienced cyclist or someone who's last bike had spokey dokeys, if you are interested and want to get involved check out the website or contact Jules and Marie at firstname.lastname@example.org
CycleHack Sydney: is part of the global CycleHack network that run a design weekend in June each year which focuses on reducing the barriers to cycling through policy, physical, and digital interventions. This year was Sydney's inaugural event, with one of our teams winning Best Global Policy Hack. For 2016, the CycleHack Sydney team are hoping to have an even greater impact. To do this, they would like to build a platform to enable the hacks that result from the event to be further developed and supported after the weekend. The team are looking for suggestions of organisations or individuals that might be interested in mentoring, funding, or providing free working space to teams that want to continue working on their hack after the event. To get involved with the 2016 event or if you just want to know more about CycleHack, contact Jane at https://www.facebook.com/CyclehackSyd/ or go to their website.
Urbanistas is women-led, not women only. We provide a supportive environment for women to pitch and test their ideas, but the delivery of the projects is open to everyone, both Urbanistas and UrbanMistas, who are willing to roll up their sleeves and offer help and support. So if you are interested in any (or all) of the projects pitched, please get in contact and let them know what you can do to help. Alternatively you can contact us here at Urbanistas Sydney and we can put you in touch with the project leaders.
If you are an Urbanistas or UrbanMistas and want to connect we us, send an email to SydUrbanistas@gmail.com with your details and we will keep you in the loop with all the Urbanistas happenings and event. You can also follow us on Twitter @SydUrbanistas
Sydney Urbanistas was excited to be part of this year's Sydney Architecture Festival as one of 10 people making up The 'One Forties' - influential Sydneysiders who can create headlines in 140 characters. What was great was that of the ten twitter ambassadors, seven (including Urbanistas) were women. Just another way we are amplifying the voice of women.
The four days of the festival was about celebrating Sydney's creative capacity - something that continues to grow. Design secrets behind the building blocks of our communities were shared; experts, younger people; locals and national leaders shared a call for better design, and better architecture and we saw, shared, posted, participated, challenged and chose from the options we heard. A great success and a big congratulations to the Festival’s inaugural Event Directors Lucy Humphrey and Claire McCaughan of Archrival (@archrival_syd) and John O Callaghan (@John_OCal) for such a great event. We can't wait till next year.
Go to the Sydney Architecture Festival website and follow on Twitter @sydarchfest to keep up to date on all the continuing work of better buildings, spaces and places. You can also check out the final SAF report here
Some of our Urbanistas co-conspirators in the UK contributed to this article that was published in The Guardian that asked "how would cities differ if women designed them?"
Our Urbanistas co-founder, Liane Hartley was quoted in response to this question that “It gives you a little bit more of a sensitivity to what it might be like to have another vulnerability,” ... “Considerate is the word, because you can’t include everyone in everything. The question is really not would cities be different if they were designed by women? It’s would they be different if more voices were heard?”
I agree with Liane, that it is about the extent and diversity of the voices contributing to the discussions and decision making about how our cities are designed, planned and managed. Cities are complex systems and are required to provide for the needs of everyone. But sometimes in trying to plan and design for everyone, we miss opportunities for specific groups to meaningfully participate in the design and decision making of our cities.
These groups, whether defined by gender, ethnicity, sexuality or age, if given a voice, may influence the way spaces are created that have an unexpected benefit for the wider community and contribute to encouraging connections and greater understanding. We just have to be willing to listen a little bit harder and be open to doing things differently.
Fiona Scott, a leading London architect said “I would go to networking events that were full of guys who had a way of talking I found exhausting,” she says. “Quite bullish, lots about sport. You find yourself feeling you have nothing to say. It’s a vicious circle where your confidence gets diminished if people don’t listen to you. I really wanted a female mentor, I knew I needed to sort it out and I spent a couple of years thinking about that a lot.”
It is this description of Fiona Scott's experience that is relevant to the philosophy of Urbanistas and why we have seen our collaborative women-led network increasing. We know that there are women in our networks and communities that have exciting ideas and projects but are not sure how or where to start. With Urbanistas Sydney want to create a space that people will listen, encourage and support your ideas that contribute to the positive social, creative and physical changes in our cities and places.
In the spirit of creating a space for discussion, we would love to get your thoughts on this question about what our urban places may look and feel might be if women built our cities.
To have a read of the article check it out here
posted by: April McCabe, Urbanistas Sydney curator