BikePortland

A former Portlander wants to know what ‘women led’ cities would look like


Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman at Portland’s Parking Day event in 2013.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman is putting what she learned in Portland to very good use: addressing the sexism in urban planning and helping women take leadership roles in how our cities are designed.

“The city, as we know it today, has been designed and shaped primarily by men,” she wrote in a recent email, “By bringing women’s voices to the forefront of the urban discussion, the Women Led Cities Initiative aims to achieve a greater level of equity in urban planning and design – both bottom-up and top-down – and start conversations about developing feminist city policy towards greater equality for all people in our cities.”

Johnston-Zimmerman, an urban anthropologist with a Master of Urban Studies degree from Portland State University (and who shared a guest article here on BikePortland in 2013), moved to Philadelphia a few years ago; but not before cutting her teeth on local activism efforts like Better Block and Parking Day. Back in 2012 I worked with Johnston-Zimmerman (and two others) on a project for GOOD Magazine where we envisioned a Portland where bicycling was just as easy as driving or taking transit.

Those projects were just the start for Johnston-Zimmerman. She’s also founder of the THINK.urban consulting firm, part of the tandem (along with fellow urbanist Kirsten Jeffers) that hosts the Third Wave Urbanism podcast, and one of the driving forces behind the Women Led Cities initiative.

They need to raise another $5,000 to make this happen — and eventually bring it to other cities.

All this work is culminating in her latest effort: to bring together women from a variety of urban planning fields for a Women Led Cities gathering. Johnston-Zimmerman has started a crowdfunding campaign to help raise money for the inaugural ‘Women Led Philly’ event.

“I think it’s important to flip the script – while it’s true that women riding in skirts and heels are good to have, and showcase good infrastructure, I wonder if we wouldn’t get there faster and have better infrastructure if it were women-led.”

I reached out to Johnston-Zimmerman to ask how Portland inspired her work. “Portland was a huge influence on me when it came to women. I worked with a pioneering female urbanist there for a time, Suzanne H. Crowhurst Lennard, and had many women colleagues at PSU who I’m still in touch with.” Johnston-Zimmerman recalled that she recently heard from a male professor at PSU who realized (after reading an article she about sexism in the urban planning field) that 95 percent of the required readings in his curriculum were written by men. “He had an epiphany and told me he should have done better,” Johnston-Zimmerman shared, “That was nice of him to say, but I didn’t have any idea at the time either!”

Johnston-Zimmerman’s experience as a bicycle rider in Portland also impacts her work. “I like using cycling as a way to think about the subject because women are often considered a key demographic — either as ‘interested but concerned’ or an ‘indicator species’,” she says. “I think it’s important to flip the script – while it’s true that women riding in skirts and heels are good to have, and showcase good infrastructure, I wonder if we wouldn’t get there faster and have better infrastructure if it were women-led.”

At this point, Johnston-Zimmerman just wants to expand the conversation and bring together women and girls to flesh out what this future, women-led city would look like. She hopes the Women Led gatherings gain steam so she can bring them to other cities. You can help by checking out the crowdfunding campaign and following @WomenLedCities on Twitter.

Hopefully the next time we see Johnston-Zimmerman she’ll be here for a Women Led Portland event.

Good luck Katrina! Keep us posted on your progress.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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