There is no doubt that being a mother of three girls informs my view of our city. As they grow up, I explore the city through their lens. Walking to and riding the bus, spending time with friends, and opportunities to spend time in our city, outside, moving their bodies for both physical and mental health.
As the winter has passed and we've negotiated Covid restrictions, I've especially seen our two oldest girls struggle to find suitable outdoor space. Our middle is quickly outgrowing playgrounds in favour of climbing trees to challenge her abilities. Our oldest can find few spaces to be with friends that cater to the teen experience they crave (whatever it is, I am still trying to figure it out too TBH).
I look at how our city has invested in outdoor public recreation and I see a gap on where young women aren't going. It's not intentional, but it happens by unintentional design in not considering how different groups view spaces for their physical and psychological safety.
These spaces tend to attract young men and boys. To be clear: all men are not the problem here, but the perception of belonging gets skewed when a certain type of consistent traits appear over and over. It is the same for racialized groups entering homogenous white person filled spaces. It is not that men and boys exclude women and girls who do show up - but is it a place women and girls feel comfortable showing up to in the first place? Do they see themselves as part of that community; do they see users as their peers; is there room for them to experience failure in a psychologically safe environment?
I look at the rinks in our community. The large rink has been the one with the hockey nets. And yes, it attracts both genders, but more so the boys. My girls are not comfortable skating on the large rink in the midst of a pickup hockey game. So we are relegated to the smaller 15'x25' rink - about 1/4 the size of the large rink (honestly probably less). It's virtually impossible for the pre-teen to stretch her legs and get more than a few pushes in, I dislike it too.
Its not about abolishing hockey rinks or removing nets, but asking ourselves - should both rinks not be the same size to provide equal opportunity to skate within our neighbourhoods?
I don't have all the answers to providing safer and more equitable spaces for young women in our city. But I do have ideas and I am willing to ask the questions - of city planners, of parents, of girls themselves, and also the boys who need other recreational opportunities too. Here are just a few ideas I have:
But I want to hear from you, your children, especially your teen and tween girls. Use this survey to send me your ideas and dreams.