What happens when girls take the lead in public space design?

Many of today’s public spaces are dominated by boys. So isn’t it time we gave girls the tools to redesign the city on their terms? We recently joined the Urban Girls Movement to explore just that. Read below to find out more…

Girls looking at a smartphone

Insights Lead at Design and Technology at Ericsson ONE

Insights Lead at Design and Technology at Ericsson ONE

“Plan a city for girls, and it will work for everyone”. This is the conviction of the Urban Girls Movement, an initiative that extends from UN-Habitat’s work on how cities that work well for women also provide opportunities for men and other groups.

We all win when girls take the lead in public space design

The Urban Girls Movement is one very inspiring initiative that wants to bring forward young girls’ perspectives on the places that they live in, with an initial focus on public spaces that often are dominated by boys.

However, the expected long-term effects go far beyond public space design. It is also about strengthening young women’s participation, increasing their knowledge, boosting their confidence, and having their ideas taken seriously by decision-makers.

As someone constantly exploring the wider impacts that technologies might have, I am happy to be part of and contribute to this initiative coordinated by Global Utmaning, an independent think tank for sustainable development based in Stockholm, Sweden. An initiative that has a very interesting multi-disciplinary partner setup, engaging local communities, the public sector, several private companies, and also large international organisations like UN-Habitat.

people walking over a bridge

Participants visited local public spaces to gauge young women’s key needs and opportunity areas

Multi-disciplinary innovation labs

One of the projects in the Urban Girls Movement has been to design and develop innovative solutions for a public space in Botkyrka, Sweden.

We began our journey through a series of so-called innovation labs, which were set up to actively stimulate knowledge sharing between different parts of the world and also using digital tools and processes developed in the Global South.

The first research-oriented phase of the innovation labs included visits to the Fittja area of Botkyrka to better understand young womens’ perspectives on local public spaces. This was followed by several workshops to define and describe key needs and opportunity areas, for example, related to improved safety, places to hang out, and local culture. This eventually led us to focus on interventions for four public spaces: around the square, the mall, the metro station, and one back alley.

Area plan

Digital tools such as Minecraft were used to stimulate creative ideas for public space design


Workers constructing wooden work

Following the research and design phase, a popup flexible activity cube was installed in local public space

The second creative phase included several sessions to collaboratively design and build ideas for these public spaces, for example, using digital games like Minecraft or 3D software like Sketchup. These ideas were then presented to the local community, Botkyrka municipality, and experts for feedback on desirability, feasibility, and viability. One of the ideas that emerged around flexible activity cubes captured many of the young womens’ needs and was selected for a popup prototyping activity at Fittja square.

Innovating together can bring bold change

On a personal level, the project activities are not only broadening my worldview by putting me in contexts and locations that I am not normally in, but they are also giving me insights and inspiration when it comes to amplifying our company purpose to empower an intelligent, sustainable and connected world.

Dark Matter Laboratories describe a world of massive interdependencies where real change must go beyond disruptive start-ups and technology-oriented public-private partnership. They emphasize the need for radical and deeply collaborative experiments involving the innovative potential of citizens and civic organisations alongside government, technologists and markets at large.

It is clear that the complex and interlinked problems described in the Sustainable Development Goals require highly cross-sectorial approaches. Contemporary (urban) challenges cannot be solved with the help of standard processes or policies, but only through new collaborative forms of governance that can support exchange of resources and joint ownership.

And this is exactly what I think the Urban Girls Movement is about; the capability for multiple actors to innovate together and new forms of experimentation for bold change. The project explores and concretizes what collective innovation could be about and how the ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals could translate to a practical local level.

Ericsson is involved in various mixed reality pilots which are bringing urban planning back to the ground level

Urban Girls Toolbox coming up

The second part of the initiative is about to start with one goal to develop and test a digital platform, not only in Botkyrka, Sweden, but also in other parts of the world. The aim is that this digital toolbox will make it possible to exchange experiences, build capacity, find synergies, and to gather and share results.

This is right in line with UN-Habitats ambitions to reduce digital inequality, build digital capacity and ensure that new technologies are a force for good. Something that will require solutions developed through broad collaborations with a focus on key missions, such as, inclusion and participation, rather than following a technology-driven and industry-driven approach.

It is very interesting to see that our previous mixed reality urban design pilots are informing these activities, which among other things will investigate how advanced visualisations can make urban design ideas and proposals more accessible and easily understood. And to stimulate dialogues with groups that otherwise might be difficult to reach.

Learn more

We believe collective action and shared responsibility are key for driving a gender equal world. This month, we are marking International Women's Day 2020 by reflecting on our progress so far as well as furthering our commitment and call for additional action.

Learn more about the Urban Girls Movement.

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