Sociotope mapping is a method used in community planning to obtain information about social conditions. Region Gotland has included a gender perspective in this process in order to better understand the different living conditions of women and men.
In Sweden, community planning work is regulated in the Planning and Building Act. The Planning and Building Act emphasises the importance of equal opportunities for all people, today and in the future. And equal opportunities cannot be achieved without equality between women and men.
This is why effective community planning is not possible without knowledge about the living conditions of women and men and how they use the public space. This is knowledge that Region Gotland has started to gather in a new way: sociotope mapping with a gender perspective.
‘How do women and men use and perceive a certain place? How accessible is the place and what qualities does it have?’
Jenny Sandberg at the community development office explains that sociotope mapping is a method used to facilitate planning of a community’s social dimension. The method has previously been used in larger cities such as Gothenburg and Stockholm, but without a gender perspective.
‘The mapping will help answer the question: How do women and men use and perceive a certain place? How accessible is the place and what qualities does it have?’
Women Less Secure than Men
As a result of the gender-segregated labour market and gender-coded leisure activities, women and men tend to spend a lot of time in different places. Add to this that women feel less secure than men in the public space. Both women and men are aware of the risk of being assaulted or robbed, but women are much more concerned about sexual violence, such as sexual harassment or rape.
‘Women and men experience partly different things in the public space and this is important to remember when we plan the physical design of the community,’ says Sandberg.
Region Gotland’s sociotope mapping captures people’s experiences via questionnaires, interviews, workshops and field studies, and the resulting information is then complemented with city officials’ own observations.
Questionnaires provide a comprehensive view of how different places are being used. Interviews and workshops offer more in-depth insight. Field studies can yield general impressions and spontaneous reflections of how citizens use an area and move around there. All the results are finally outlined on a map, giving a good overview of the information.
Users and Experts Don’t Always Agree
Community planning is often based on expert assessments of different places. The user perspective is often missing in the evaluations, which is problematic, Sandberg explains.
‘Sometimes the evaluations by experts and users don’t agree. We saw this clearly for example when we tested the tool in the Östercentrum commercial centre in Visby.’
‘Sometimes the evaluations by experts and users don’t agree.’
The experts concluded that the vicinity of the centre’s restaurants that stay open all night should be perceived as unsafe since police statistics indicate that crime is relatively common there. However, it turned out that people who frequented the areas did not feel unsafe at all.
In contrast, the area that was perceived as the most unsafe according to the sociotope mapping, among both women and men, did not appear much at all in the crime statistics. This was a grassy area surrounded by many backsides of buildings, which made it feel secluded and unsafe, especially at night.
‘These types of discoveries help us allocate resources to the right locations, enabling us to prioritise the areas that citizens actually perceive as unsafe instead of the ones we believe are unsafe based on statistics that after all don’t reflect people’s feelings of not being safe,’ says Sandberg.
Gender Equality in the Planning Material
The staff at the community development office have worked hard to gender mainstream their everyday operations. For example, today the city’s general plan provides that the method must be used in all communities in the region. This will help ensure that in the future, all material used by community developers will consider the partly different experiences of women and men.
Besides the sociotope mapping, the staff have received training in gender equality within community planning. The efforts are already paying off.
‘The other day, one of our managers didn’t want to sign a draft of a new local plan since the gender perspective had not been sufficiently considered. The staff are starting to open their eyes to these issues, and that’s a result of our strategic efforts,’ Sandberg concluded.