Changing public spaces, making public places: women's contribution to our cities

Inspired by her double heroines American urbanist Jane Jacobs, and Sydney Mayor Clover Moore, community activist and organiser Jane Jose pulls together stories of the leading lights of women working to make our cities more human.
Book Info
Places Women Make
Jane Jose
Wakefield Press

Jane Jose's Places Women Make sets out to address the gaps in our knowledge and in the record of the contributions women have made to establishing and building urban spaces that work. In her terms that means spaces and places that, regardless of whether they are footpaths, pocket-handkerchief parks or large public gardens, they are inclusive, welcoming and interesting: places that connect people and give them a sense of belonging. As CEO of Sydney Community Foundation, Jane Jose is interested in making our heavily urbanised population - 89.9% inhabiting what the ABS defines as urban localities - more of a community.

With this book she sets out to record the work women have done as gardeners, planners, architects, advocates, politicians and organisers of people, to create public spaces and cities that nuture a sense of belonging. Given the current angst in our cities over housing, dwindling green spaces and multiplying roads and infrastructures, this surely is work that is urgently required. Jose asks what needs to be done to fix our broken cities and suggests that 'By sharing stories about women and the places they have made in our cities, I hope to inspire a new generation of women to imagine and create the kinds of places that will be loved and enjoyed by tomorrow's children.'

Starting with Elizabeth Macquarie, wife of colonial Governor Lachlan Macquarie, Jose introduces readers to Macquairie's harbourside walk evoking the leadership of Clover Moore, Mayor of Sydney and other capital city women mayors over recent decades.

Sydney occupies the lion's share of text.  Regional centres don't get much space and neither does the work push far into the suburban spaces beyond foreshores and parks where millions are invested.  While these are beautiful and much loved spaces, I suggest special consideration needs also to be given to the design and construction of the real 'burbs', beyond the goats-cheese-and soy-latte-curtain, where kids might be striving.  Parks and green spaces are critical to their thriving.

As well as creating new places, Jose examines the vital roles women have played in the conservation and preservation of numerous heritage listed buildings and in claiming land for national parks. In a text that upholds women's more traditional caring roles and values the contributions such roles make to community cohesion and well-being, I was surprised to not to see a more deliberately embedded foundation laid by referencing more specifically the pre-settlement roles of indigenous women, albeit their names may be stolen by time, in communities which lived in these places. Their places were made and marked by habitation before these cities were made. Other than Barangaroo, 'wife of Aboriginal elder, Bennelong', these women and their lives are not visible. Interesting too was the absence of mention of the work of poet Judith Wright and the botanical artist Kathleen MacArthur whose contributions were pivotal in the campaign to establish Cooloola National Park. Judith Wright's involvement was key to saving the Barrier Reef and the fight for Aboriginal land rights recognition. They are two I happen to know about. I am certain there are many other women whose contributions deserve to be recorded. 

Places Women Make is a great start on an important on-going conversation about building our cities from fractured past to promising future and I commend Jose's book for opening the discussion so vitally. I'd love to see a follow-up with futher consideration of the work being done by women in the suburbs, in the satellite towns like Logan, like Geelong, and in our rural and regional urban places.  Connection and community is also vital to their survival.


Reviewed by Pamela Greet