Planning for gender inclusion

The notion that there are only two genders, female and male, has become a topic of discussion and research. So, there is a growing interest in planning and designing for people who identify outside this binary. But much of the research literature is based on the experiences of women. There is little research on people who identify as nonbinary, trans, intersex or genderqueer. However, in the meantime, some of the research on women’s experiences can act as a proxy for people who identify as nonbinary. The key issue is that gender inclusion is left out of planning conversations.

Masters student Carolyn Chu investigated the constraints women and nonbinary people face when using public space. These constraints have a profound effect on their health, daily living and safety. Chu wanted to understand gender differences in park usage, planning and design in Los Angeles parks.

Front cover of Planning for Gender Inclusion.

Chu says that planners should thing critically about gender by leveraging a feminist planning perspective. Participatory methods that favour marginalised voices in planning discussions are essential. And to explore creative design options for diverse populations across gender, ages, ability and housing status.

Key findings

• Women have diverse needs and opinions related to park amenities, services, and preferences.
• Women and nonbinary people are not the majority users of Lafayette Park. The most common uses for women park users were leisurely walking and supervising children. Very few women engaged in exercise or vigorous physical activity (other than walking) while using the park.
• In planning processes, as with other municipal processes, the loudest voices in a community often have disproportionately more power in decision making. These loud voices have historically been, and continue to be, the voices of white, middle-class, and cisgender people.
• Planners need to balance competing needs for space, especially in dense city neighborhoods such as Koreatown and Westlake where Lafayette Park is located.
• Parks are not just a place for leisure, but also settings for economic activity and shelter
• Women’s past experiences of harassment in public places have created anxiety and fear for their safety in parks. Women are careful about how they dress while using parks to avert unwanted attention on their bodies.
• Parks provision and staffing are chronically underfunded and embedded in broader political dynamics.

“The nonprofit planner urged that in order to build gender-inclusive spaces, women must be included in every step of the planning phase, from inception to funding, leading, outreach, implementation, and evaluation. They emphasized that gender inclusive parks are created at the time of park inception, early in the process, and cannot be “tacked on” after foundational decisions have been made.”

Title of the study is, Gender Inclusion: Gender-Inclusive Planning and Design Recommendations for Los Angeles Parks. The research is largely based around women’s experiences, but issues such as safety are shared by other marginalised groups. Community engagement is a core strategy for all aspects of planning and design. And that means more than holding the traditional town hall meeting.

Planning and Policy Recommendations

1. Think critically about gender by leveraging a feminist planning perspective that recognizes that people of all genders have multiple, intersecting, and dynamic identities that hold meaning and power.
2. Use participatory methods that favor marginalized voices, open planning discussions to a wider range of opinions, and make time for collective decision-making.
3. Build a network of diverse parks that can accommodate a range of different desires and partner with nonprofits to explore alternative stewardship and ownership practices.
4. Explore creative design and programming options that are designed with all abilities in mind and maximize limited space in inner cities.
5. Invest and fund our parks equitably with a particular focus on providing resources for communities that are park poor due to historically discriminatory planning practices.
6. Pursue further research on park users across the spectrum of gender, age, ability, and housing status.


Urban planning theory and practice have created gendered environments that mainly privilege the needs of cisgender men. Women, nonbinary, and genderqueer people face various constraints on their use of public space which has profound effects on their health, daily living, and safety. This research study seeks to understand gender disparities in park usage, planning, and design in Los Angeles parks and offers recommendations to mitigate those disparities through improvements to planning processes.

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