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Reading recommendations #3: Feminist City

Although the field of feminist urbanism has gained increasing exposure in recent years, if we look outside the strictly academic field, excluding specialized research and papers, it’s rather difficult to find many publications related to the topic. Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-made World (Verso, 2020) fills this gap in the current editorial landscape providing us with an easy-to-read yet accurate and complete outlook on feminist urbanism, moving the topic outside of academia and making it accessible to a larger public. 

Kern starts from her personal experience as a mother in the city (addressing logistical problems, the difficulties of moving with a stroller, the privatization of care work, and so on) to develop a broader reflection on the relation between gender and urban space applying an intersectional feminist perspective to highlight how the fight for a feminist city intersects with the interests of the most marginalized groups and their struggle. Of fundamental importance in Kern’s analysis is the recognition of her own privilege, as a white, middle-class, able-bodied woman. To quote a passage from the introduction:

For me, to take a feminist stance on cities is to wrestle with a set of entengled power retalionships. Asking “women’s questions” about the city means asking about so much more than gender. I have to ask how my desire for safety might lead to increased policing of communities of colour. I have to ask how my need for stroller access can work in solidarity with the needs of disabled people and seniors. I have to ask how my desire to “claim” urban space for women could perpetuate colonial practices and discourses that harm the efforts of Indigenous people to reclaim land taken and colonized. Asking these questions requires an intersectional approach and some level of self-reflection on my own position.

Through its six chapters (city of men, city of moms, city of friends, city of one, city of protest, city of fear), the book succeeds in combining private and personal events with socio-economic critique, showing how urban development has grown accordingly to the patriarchal and neoliberal system and how this worsened the lives of the majority of people living in urban environments. Feminist City is an illuminating publication that pushes the reader into reflecting on their own urban experiences and how the urban context can improve through a collective fight for more feminist and inclusive cities.