(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 347: The Feminist City
This week we’re joined by Professor Leslie Kern to talk about her book Feminist City. We talk about the need to make more spaces for non-traditional relationships, feminist geography and intersectionality, and how care work taxes personal transportation budgets.
You can find audio for all of our shows at Streetsblog USA.
Jeff Wood (1m 21s):
Well, Leslie Kern, welcome to the talking head ways podcast. Thank you. It’s great to be here. Well, thanks for coming on the show before we get started. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Leslie Kern (1m 32s):
Sure. I am an professor of urban geography at Mount Allison university in lovely Sackville new Brunswick, Canada, and I am also the director of the women’s and gender studies program. There I’m also the author of two books on January and cities, including feminist city.
Jeff Wood (1m 48s):
Awesome. Yeah, I looked up where new Brunswick was on a map because I thought I had an idea of where it was, but you’re in the, almost the fourth time zone. It feels like the
Leslie Kern (1m 56s):
Forgotten time zone in what we call the drive-through province. So, you know, you’re not alone in having to look it up. Trust me.
Jeff Wood (2m 6s):
Well, you document in the book a bit, your initial interest in cities and city spaces, but what was the first indication that you were going to be in love with cities or you’re fascinated by their operation and then how they work?
Leslie Kern (2m 16s):
Well, I grew up in the suburbs of Canada’s biggest city, Toronto in a suburban zone that was just growing exponentially, but it was kind of the highlight of my preteen and teenage years to get to go downtown as we called it, usually on the commuter train, or maybe you’d get dropped off at the subway station by, by one of your parents. And this was such a moment of like freedom and excitement to just be able to explore the city a little bit on your own, even though, you know, my, my ability to explore wisely was limited as I was younger, but I think those early days really piqued my interest and were starting to communicate to me that there was something special about cities.
Leslie Kern (2m 57s):
So there was something a little bit different about how life felt about the rhythm of the street than what I had experienced in my suburban upbringing to that date.
Jeff Wood (3m 7s):
Well, there’s a story in the book about a night out that you had, which I really appreciated. I’ve had a few of those myself that I won’t forget specifically around pride here in San Francisco, but you, you talk about people, you know, telling themselves they got lucky for having those types of nights out. I’m wondering how does one change that narrative inside and outside their mind of how that works?
Leslie Kern (3m 26s):
Sure. I think it’s an especially pernicious narrative for women because we are given the message all the time that urban spaces being out late at night, doing things that are a little bit off the beaten track is inevitably dangerous. And that somehow if you escape that without being, you know, assaulted, kidnapped, ending up in a criminal minds episode, that what really happened was luck. And it inculcates us into this sense that the world is constantly dangerous and that we need to live in fear. So yeah. What do we do about that? I mean, I think partly it is a society-wide problem in terms of messaging, but I also try to point out in the book that women, we can trust ourselves a little bit more that we, because of the socialization have to become really quite good at reading signals, reading signs of danger, making snap calls about what is safe and what is not safe.
Leslie Kern (4m 22s):
And that instead of listening to the messages that says that we’re incapable of assessing danger, we might actually start to both trust ourselves and to trust in the ways that women try to take care of each other when we’re out in a boat, whether that’s going out with a friend, checking in by a text, watching out, even, even for strangers in a bar and so on.
Jeff Wood (4m 44s):
It was interesting to hear you talk about the life before cell phones and the intricate processes you had for checking in with your friends and those types of things. I remember those times too. I mean, like it was pre cell phone was kind of an interesting period for that.
Leslie Kern (4m 59s):
Yeah. It almost seems like a wild world when we look back on it, because now we’re so used to having this mode of constant communication, but we really couldn’t take that for granted even just 20 years ago. So yes, as a young woman living in the city, my friends and I, you know, we wanted to take care of each other. We had inherited those messages that you needed to look out for one another, that you needed to keep track of where your friends were. And so whether that was, you know, constantly knowing where the next people was, checking in with people when you were getting on and off public transit, walking one another to places when otherwise we would be alone. These were all ways that we had of trying to keep each other safe without the tether of the cell phone or the text message.
Jeff Wood (5m 43s):
And that kind of goes to my next question is the importance of friendships. You talked about that too in the book pretty wonderfully, actually I’m wondering how much friendship plays into the space of cities, not
Leslie Kern (5m 53s):
Enough, I would say. And I think this is maybe something that people have recognized a little bit more during the pandemic. When many of us have been cut off at least periodically and kind of repeatedly from our friendships, as we’ve been told to stay in household bubbles. And without some of those spaces that we take for granted where friendship can happen, many people have been left, really feeling the lack of those relationships. So for me, I think there are ways that cities could encourage or facilitate, or even does value the bonds of friendship or other kinds of, you know, non-nuclear family relationships a little bit more, whether that’s thinking of alternative modes of housing, whether that’s a greater public space where we can actually sit and socialize without having to, you know, go into a cafe or a restaurant and buy something expensive as our kind of mode of, of socializing.
Leslie Kern (6m 47s):
But on the other hand, you know, cities are, you know, exciting places for the development of friendships and all other sorts of relationships. They’re perhaps not as dedicated to confining people to the limits of the traditional nuclear family. There is more space for alternative ways of being in cohabitating and setting up the life that you want.
Jeff Wood (7m 12s):
What would that look like? Friendship? We use this term infrastructure a lot lately, obviously because there’s a massive conversation about it going on, but what would like friendship infrastructure look like in a city?
Leslie Kern (7m 21s):
Yeah, I’ve been trying to think about this a lot lately. You know, the space of the home is a key example. In most cities in north America, the primary form of housing that we build is dedicated to the nuclear family and the small nuclear family. So the space itself is sort of designed around a particular family form, but also all of our like policies around, you know, property ownership, policies around like, you know, tax benefits, all of these layers kind of go together to funnel us towards a certain way of living. And there isn’t a lot of space or it takes a lot of effort to do something differently within those constraints.
Leslie Kern (8m 5s):
So I think if we can imagine, and, and certainly this does exist in many places, other forms of housing, where there are more flexible configurations of what the home itself looks like, where there are more shared spaces like communal kitchens, laundries, gardens, courtyards, things that bring people together and outside of the private space of the home, these would be really key. I also think there is room to really rethink what our public spaces are. Like. I know in, in so many cities, we have such a fear of crime, a fear of homeless people, a fear of terrorism that we’ve ripped out so much social infrastructure, you know, we’ve taken away benches, we’ve made it difficult to find a place to have shelter and she, and to, you know, sit and relax again, something many people notice during the pandemic, it’s hard to get out and socialize even as our governments were telling us to do so.
Leslie Kern (9m 1s):
So can we create configurations in public space that encourage people to gather right now, I would say many of our cities actively tried to do the opposite.
Jeff Wood (9m 10s):
There’s also that discussion about the public versus the private danger, right? I mean, that idea that in public, you’re more apt to be in trouble rather than places that are actually the places where you’re more in trouble, which is those personal spaces, domestic violence, those types of things.
Leslie Kern (9m 27s):
Yeah. And that’s something that many people don’t really want to talk about that, you know, we have an assumption that the home is a safe space, that the family is a safe space. When in fact for women and children, that is statistically the most dangerous space, a space where you’re most likely to experience violence over the course of your life rather than in public space, but you’re right. The public discourse, everything that we see on the news media, on our, you know, police procedural TV shows would suggest to us that public space is dangerous. So I think we also need to challenge that perception and to recognize that the more people that are out using public space, in fact, the safer it is,
Jeff Wood (10m 6s):
What’s feminist geography and why is space so key to that specific discussion?
Leslie Kern (10m 11s):
Sure. You know, feminist geography is something that I myself had never heard of until I was in graduate school. I was a feminist, I was a women’s studies student, but I had no idea that you could take the ideas of feminism and kind of, you know, gendered analysis of how power works in society and apply it to environments like cities. So feminist geography is about understanding the ways that gender roles, gender relations, ideas about gender become embedded in the spaces around us. And in turn how those spaces kind of influenced us in terms of those gender roles and relations. Ultimately, it’s about trying to understand how power works through space.
Leslie Kern (10m 51s):
So for me, it’s like adding kind of literally a third dimension to an analysis of power in society.
Jeff Wood (10m 59s):
And that goes to kind of the idea of intersectionality too. I mean, thinking about how many disciplines and social issues actually go together to kind of create our understanding of a greater world or greater narrative. Sure.
Leslie Kern (11m 10s):
Gender is just one possible entry point to thinking about an array of power relations, including race, sexuality, age ability, and so much more these things, you know, as the term intersectionality applies, they intersect, they work together to shape people’s lives in very real ways. So for me, one of the other, I guess, core tenants of feminist geography is to try to take an intersectional approach that doesn’t assume that all women, for example, experience the city in the same way or that gender is always the most important category of analysis.
Jeff Wood (11m 50s):
What’s something about intersectionality that sticks out to you. I think for me reading the book, I mean the black lives matter Toronto protest was one and you have a number of different other examples of places where you thought things were going one way and then maybe they ended up being another because of that intersectionality.
Leslie Kern (12m 6s):
Yes, the black lives matter protest at Toronto pride in 2016 is a great example of how, you know, a queer racialized community coming together to say, listen, you know, these faces of pride that seemed very safe for one group of people are in fact, not safe for many others. So pointing out that, in those sort of rush to widespread acceptance of the politics of pride and so on that some people were really being left behind in my experience as a feminist activist, going back to the early 1990s, some of the marches that we would go on, like take back the night, looking back now, they were not terribly intersectional in terms of the kind of neighborhoods that they marched through, which were, you know, poor immigrant racialized neighborhoods that were being reclaimed by this loud cadre of young university feminists.
Leslie Kern (12m 59s):
They also weren’t spaces that were friendly towards trans women or non binary people. There was very much a women only conversation at that point and it wasn’t trans inclusive. It was perhaps also hostile to groups like sex workers, who in these neighborhoods that we were supposedly reclaiming. This is where they make their living. So for me, that was a real education in what intersectional activism can look like
Jeff Wood (13m 27s):
Of the book also is about kind of the changes that happen right before and after you became a mother. I’m curious, why are cities so hostile to parents? And how did you feel that?
Leslie Kern (13m 36s):
Well, in a very day-to-day embodied experiential sense, most people who have tried to actively move through the city care for a baby or a small child in the city will experience that sense of hostility in that there are all kinds of physical and social barriers that suddenly make it very difficult to do all of the things that you very much took for granted before from getting on public transportation, to finding a place to nurse or feed or change a child to even just places that kind of tolerate the presence of children without it being, you know, some kind of nuisance or unpleasant difficulty that people don’t want to deal with.
Leslie Kern (14m 20s):
The why question? Well, in most cases, cities have really been set up to prioritize the kind of economic activity and the mobility from home to work, to engage in paid economic activity. And historically, that was seen as the domain of men. Now that has never entirely been the case, but that has been the assumption, right? That it’s men doing this and that whoever is doing it is also not encumbered by children that, that care work of being with and looking after children will in the private space of the home or out in the far-flung suburbs, it doesn’t really seem to belong in the city. And so when you try to bring it into the city, when you try to merge those parts of your life, or simply when you have to, because you have to drop one baby at daycare, you’ve got to drop someone else at school, you got to pick up diapers and go to your paid work.
Leslie Kern (15m 10s):
These things collide, and they don’t mesh together very well in most places.
Jeff Wood (15m 17s):
Funnily enough, as department stores seemed like a better space for people. It seemed in the book, at least when you were talking about them, they were places where you could actually go and take care of the day-to-day business of being a parent.
Leslie Kern (15m 27s):
Yeah. I sort of miss some of those big department stores. We still have a few of them in most cities, but they’re these cool or warm locations. They have lots of bathroom facilities. They have areas to change babies. They have places to sit down and rest. They have water fountains. They often have places to eat. They were very much, you know, little Oasis in the city. They’re very spacious and they have elevators and escalators. So it’s kind of easy to get around. But in many cases, as the trend has been moving away from large stores like that, it becomes a little more difficult to do those things in like a boutique of some kind or even in your local Starbucks cafe
Jeff Wood (16m 11s):
Before it got pared down a little bit and kind of shoved towards reconciliation that we hope will happen here in the United States, there was kind of a reframing of, of infrastructure to discuss other ideas such as care work and thinking about how that’s undervalued compared to like transportation and maybe city plans and those types of things. I’m wondering how CareWork fits into the discussion about the feminist city.
Leslie Kern (16m 33s):
I think it’s a huge piece. And honestly, again, because of the pandemic, I’ve really been pushed to make that more explicit because of course, during the pandemic disproportionate burden of care, work on women was made more public, more visible. It’s sometimes difficult to talk about it. Cause I think we’ve known this for so long. It’s not a secret yet. It takes these moments of crisis to bring it into a wider conversation and to get people talking about care, work as infrastructure. Now, feminists have been talking about this for a very long time decades, if not longer, but to see it actually make its way into kind of the mainstream political arena in recognition of the fact that this thing that we call the economy, the world of public paid work, it cannot function.
Leslie Kern (17m 24s):
It cannot happen. It does not exist without care work, including childcare, including elder care, including domestic work and a whole host of other activities that literally keep us functioning as human beings to be the good worker bees for capitalism to put it bluntly yet, we’ve made it so invisible. We’ve ignored it, we’ve undervalued it. We either don’t pay for it at all because you know, someone just does it in the home or we pay it very poor wages when it’s done in public. And we leave it to people who are, you know, kind of the most marginalized in the labor market to take on that work.
Leslie Kern (18m 5s):
So to frame it as infrastructure to me is, is one way of starting to value that work, to recognize it’s important. And to note that it is absolutely essential to the economy.
Jeff Wood (18m 20s):
It’s also connected to that transportation discussion too. I mean, there’s the idea of the pink tax and care work as something that costs people more because they have to make more trips. That’s something that you talk about briefly in the book as well.
Leslie Kern (18m 34s):
Sure. Many decades of research have shown that women’s journeys through the city are much less linear than men’s and they involve more stops. And a lot of this has to do with care work, that there are stop seeing me to deal with children. There are household errands that are being run there’s checking in on elderly parents, all kinds of things that are going on in addition to women traveling to and from their paid work in many cases. So transportation systems that don’t take that into account end up kind of burdening women in a number of ways, there can certainly be a monetary tax or it might cost more to get on and off to do these things.
Leslie Kern (19m 17s):
Or you might actually need to take a taxi to do some of it. And someone, it costs money often to bring your children onto public transportation. There’s also just the time tax and that it can be quite a burden to be hopping on and off. And that if you need to travel in between residential neighborhoods, there are often not direct routes that do that. You need to go into the central city first and then out again. So there’s a lot of ways in which women kind of, you know, bear the burden of a variety of taxes when it comes to transportation systems that have been designed with the nine to five breadwinner commuter model in mind
Jeff Wood (19m 55s):
Last week we had Chris and Melissa Bruntlett on talk about their book, curbing traffic. And Melissa was talking specifically about how much mental space has opened up since they moved to the Netherlands, because she doesn’t have to do a lot of those trips with her kids and the kids can do them on their own when they get to be a certain age, obviously. But that is interesting to think about how much mental space is taken up in our brains, by the mobility of the folks that we care for, or kids or parents or significant others, anything along those lines.
Leslie Kern (20m 23s):
Yeah. And, you know, in addition to journey’s on public transportation, women are more likely to take a variety of pedestrian journeys during the day. And when the city isn’t really set up to facilitate that, like it doesn’t clear the snow from the sidewalks, for example, in the winter time, then we’re left with, you know, again, more and more barriers to actually just efficiently doing the things that one needs to do in places like the Netherlands or other places that both have good, safe, efficient public transportation systems, as well as safe pedestrian and bike routes, which, you know, relatively young kids can use on their own or with their parents.
Leslie Kern (21m 4s):
It makes a huge difference to kind of both that mental load and the time burden of getting a family where it needs to be on a day-to-day basis.
Jeff Wood (21m 13s):
What would your perfect transportation network look like?
Leslie Kern (21m 16s):
Well, I’m not a cyclist, but I won’t leave the cyclist out. I would absolutely agree that the more space that we can build for all sorts of modes of transportation that are not car focused is super important in terms of public transportation. I would love to see either free or affordable public transit at the very least no fares charge for, you know, children under say 15, for example, I would love to see systems that include residential routes that also run into the night and into the weekends systems that incorporate a variety of ways of linking transportation.
Leslie Kern (21m 56s):
So we’re seeing now some transit systems in big cities partnering or creating their own kind of micro transit solution so that you can get into like a car or van based transit at off hours or going to different locations. Right? So anything that kind of makes it possible for people to use the system 24 7, right. Rather than it being limited to particular times. I also think, you know, safety is a key component all around the world, women and girls report, constant levels of harassment and physical and sexual assault on transportation systems. However, I don’t think the answer is to have a police officer in every subway car, but rather to both create a kind of culture of safety and to use, you know, non armed interventions and surveillance methods to ensure that people feel safe.
Jeff Wood (22m 49s):
Culture thing is really important because as you mentioned, there’s really no perfect plan. And you, you mentioned it, it was funny. I was reading that about how your students get frustrated that there’s no like specific way forward. There is just an overarching kind of, you know, culture that needs to change rather than specific plans. It’s one of those things it’s interesting.
Leslie Kern (23m 9s):
Yeah. And that remains a very difficult conundrum because I think as I say in the book, I’d like to think that if there was a way to just design out violence against women, for example, or sexual harassment or sexism itself, I’d like to think that we would have already done it, but clearly we have not. So you’re right. It’s not a matter that there’s a perfect formula of the right number of streetlights or even the right number of buses. And so on that there does at the same time have to be a wider cultural shift. One that reckons with how dominant forms of masculinity are expressed in public. One that reckons with, you know, other forms of like violence and deprivation in the city that contribute to a culture of fear and hostility and not trusting one another as urban citizens and, you know, a general shift to set up seeing our cities as places where we’re all afraid of one another, but to, you know, have a greater sense of community and trust amongst one another
Jeff Wood (24m 14s):
Does pop culture cause problems for us in that realm of the fear and the lack of trust,
Leslie Kern (24m 19s):
I would say. So I mentioned earlier shows like criminal minds, you know, law and order SVU, I’m guilty. I love watching it. You know, like I can’t watch this. I, I don’t blame you I’ve, I’ve had to stop watching some of them over the years because in fact, what I’ve noticed is that there’s a kind of constant upping the ante of the Grizzlies onus of the crimes that occur. And in many cases, even if the shows are not specifically about crimes against women and girls are sexually based violence, that comes up again and again and again. And I think the message that it sends is one that there is a constant danger in public space, right?
Leslie Kern (25m 1s):
And that the greatest danger that people face is from strangers, right? And that we need to be constantly distrustful of strangers. And it allows us to kind of turn away from the reality of violence, which is that, as I said before, for women and girls, it’s much more likely women and children in general, it’s much more likely to be in the home and from people that, you know, but even more widely, most violence that occurs is between people who are known to one another. So the idea of a stranger danger of a serial killer lurking behind every corner is really a false one. And I think it plays into the hands of powerful forces that say the only way to keep safe is more police, more security cameras, more, you know, kind of crackdowns on so-called dangerous neighborhoods and dangerous people that just ends up being this kind of performance of security that, you know, funnels tons of money into these powerful institutions when maybe it could go towards, I don’t know, housing or childcare or mental health
Jeff Wood (26m 4s):
And kind of changing the built environment to, there was a quote that stuck out to me related to that in the book, because the built environment is durable over long time spans. We’re stuck with spaces that reflect outdated and inaccurate social reality.
Leslie Kern (26m 15s):
Yes. So if we think about a space like the suburbs, right, that in the post-war periods in north America, especially after world war two, the suburbs expanded greatly both to provide housing for returning veterans, but also to provide a kind of spatial fix for what was seen as a problem of women becoming too independent, being out in the workforce and taking away jobs from men who, as they returned from war would, you know, take the jobs back that were rightfully there so that the suburbs were kind of solution to like literally get women back in the home and that organization, it kind of works well. I guess if that is your idea of the way society should work, you have one homemaker out in the suburbs and you have someone who travels to and from the city for work.
Leslie Kern (27m 3s):
But today that doesn’t reflect the reality of the vast majority of households where even in a heterosexual nuclear family, which is also increasingly rare, or certainly not necessarily the majority of people, both adults usually work in that situation. So we’re left with this forum, the suburbs that really doesn’t support very well, the way that most families function and the space itself then becomes kind of this limiting factor where people really struggled to juggle all the responsibilities of home and work.
Jeff Wood (27m 39s):
Another thing that the book brings up that I thought was interesting, or at least something that I wanted to discuss was the idea of just being in a space and the ability to be in a space. And I think that’s hard for a lot of folks to think about that might not think about their being in a space. And I know that’s kind of a strange phrase that I just said, but, you know, just being as a, you know, a white CIS male is fairly easy and I’ve noticed many times when, you know, walking down the street late at night, it doesn’t bother me, but I can see where being might be a problem for others.
Leslie Kern (28m 12s):
Yes. Historically speaking, one of the things that we’ve seen as a possible pleasure of the growing busy-ness of the city was the ability to just people watch to be part of the urban crowd to be the Flinor as the, the literature called it back in the day. But of course that figure of the Flinor was pretty much always a man and cis-gendered able bodied person who was not marked in some way as different, but for women, for people of color, for people with disabilities, that is a very different experience because it’s very hard to blend into the crowd when you feel like you are being observed or perhaps objectified or viewed with suspicion, simply for being in that space, it’s hard to blend in and simply be to just enjoy that experience of being in public when you know that you need to be vigilant for possible danger or harassment or, you know, police surveillance or whatever it might be that could interfere with just your simple movement.
Leslie Kern (29m 19s):
So yes, unfortunately just being in cities is something that I think is fairly privileged. And as you mentioned, it goes kind of unnoticed unless you have had the experience of being marked out or being unable to relax in public space.
Jeff Wood (29m 38s):
What’s been the response to the book so far.
Leslie Kern (29m 40s):
Well, I’ve been heartened by the response in that people in professions like architecture and planning and civil engineering and urban design seemed quite interested in having me come in and speak. So I’m really encouraged by that sometimes on my grumpier days, I think, gosh, you know, the ideas that I talk about in the book are not new. I did not invent them by any stretch of the imagination. They have been around for decades and in some cases centuries. So there’s a certain frustration when I’m talking to, for example, architecture students and someone says, oh, I really wish I had learned about this in class would be so great. And I think, well, why aren’t you, you know, this material is there.
Leslie Kern (30m 22s):
Nobody had to wait until 2020 for my book to come out to see a feminist critique of architecture planning or the built environment. But if the time is right for people to want to be open to these ideas and to listen, and if I’m one of the people that they want to listen to you, then sure. I’m happy to, you know, spread these ideas further to a wider audience.
Jeff Wood (30m 46s):
Are there questions that you wish that people would ask about? You probably get questions about the same things a lot, but then maybe there might be things that are overlooked. Are there things in the book that are overlooked that you wish more people would have a discussion about?
Leslie Kern (30m 59s):
That’s a great question. There does tend to be an interest on in focusing on things like questions of safety, which I totally understand why that is. It tends to rise to the top of the question pile when we’re thinking about women and cities, because it’s been such a prevalent issue. One of the things that probably I haven’t gotten to talk as much about over the last year might be, you know, kind of the role of activism in making change in cities, maybe last summer, there was some more conversation because of course the widespread black lives matter protests that were kind of going on all over the world was a moment when people were both witnessing and getting involved in very, you know, embodied on the streets, physical activism and wanting to say, okay, does this matter?
Leslie Kern (31m 50s):
What does this mean? And that’s a conversation that I’m quite interested
Jeff Wood (31m 54s):
In. You have a number of discussions about activism in the book, and it’s interesting to hear how activists somewhat, sometimes treat each other when they’re not, maybe not as trusting of them as you think that they would be because they’re a part of the same cause.
Leslie Kern (32m 9s):
Well, activists are at the end of the day, no matter how progressive their politics are, the things that they’re invested in, we are still a product of the societies that raise us. And so as conscious as one might become a power and so on, it doesn’t mean that we are fully divested of things like sexist attitudes, the latent racism, ableism, and so on. And these things certainly do get expressed both within activist communities and during events like protests, where some people are left out where their voices might be marginalized or where their needs are simply not considered at all. And of course at the further, and the more negative end, you know, within these communities, as within any communities, there can be abuse that happens, and it can be more difficult to call out that abuse when we’re supposed to all be on the same side and fighting for the good cause and so on.
Leslie Kern (33m 3s):
But I think it’s important to acknowledge those power dynamics and to recognize that just because we all believe in black lives matter, for example, or we believe in, you know, women’s right to take up space in the city, that it doesn’t mean that we are somehow immune from expressing problematic power hierarchies within our own groups.
Jeff Wood (33m 23s):
Who are some of your favorite writers or thinkers on this same subject?
Leslie Kern (33m 27s):
I certainly enjoy the writing of Rebecca Solnit, who you probably know from San Francisco that she’s written quite quite a lot about San Francisco in particular, the changes that that city has undergone over the last several decades as forces like gentrification have really, if she says hollowed out the city of many of the things that made it a vibrant, weird, interesting, and diverse place and, and have in fact made it a more dangerous and hostile and, and pleasant place for marginalized people now who find themselves without places to live without the social services that they require and so on.
Leslie Kern (34m 9s):
And she has a very evocative way of writing. And of course, she’s very good at pairing visuals with the writing as well, to give us a sense of what the geography places are like and what the kind of feel of communities are. Like, I also recently read a book called design justice by Sasha Costanza chalk. And it’s about this whole movement that I was not really aware of. That’s called design justice and design is used in a broad sense here. It can mean everything from, you know, kind of tack and apps that you hold in your hand to, you know, industrial design and, you know, household objects that we use, but also to the design of places like cities and the design justice movement is all about thinking about equity through design, both recognizing that historically design has been quite biased at best.
Leslie Kern (34m 57s):
And in fact, sometimes actively harmful and ignoring the needs of various groups, but proposing that through a design equity process, which involves things like community consultation and, you know, working to ameliorate longstanding and historical inequities that design practices can change the way that we live and lead us to more equitable future. So I was quite inspired by that book, which is available free to download on the internet as part of the paradigm of design justice.
Jeff Wood (35m 29s):
What’s next for you? Are you on a world tour now? And are there any other books or writings in the hopper?
Leslie Kern (35m 36s):
Well, I’ve been on a world from the space of a spare bedroom slash office. Yes. That is ongoing. The next project that will be coming out in fall of 2022 is a book about gentrification actually. And like feminist city, it’s designed to be read by a wide audience of people. Anyone who’s really interested in cities, city life, and some of the changes that they might’ve witnessed in their own environment. So the book kind of takes us through a variety of ways of understanding gentrification, you know, as a kind of cultural process as an economic process, but also encourages us to dig into gendered elements to the racial dynamics and to the ongoing forces of colonialism that are also implicated or part of the package of gentrification,
Jeff Wood (36m 27s):
A bit of discussion in this book to gentrification and some of the mixed discussion about it. I think that it’s more complicated sometimes then people make it out to be absolutely.
Leslie Kern (36m 36s):
And that’s one of the reasons that I wrote this book. I’m, I’m a gentrification researcher as part of my day jobs. So it’s definitely something that I’ve long been interested in, but from a feminist perspective, yes, complicated, you know, back when people were first observing gentrification and 60 seventies and eighties people thought, you know, this is kind of a potential solution to the problems of the suburban housewife. Who’s trying to juggle, you know, going to paid work while still having all of these domestic responsibilities. Maybe city life is the solution. Yet on the other hand, we have questions, but you know, who is that available for about the kind of increased pressures of motherhood and doing it all and being at all and looking perfect.
Leslie Kern (37m 21s):
And all of those things that also come along with the kind of gentrifier culture, and then the fact that so many of the benefits of city living are becoming increasingly out of reach for the very people who would benefit the most from them.
Jeff Wood (37m 34s):
For sure, the book is feminist city claiming space in a man-made world. Where can folks find the book if they want to get a copy, which they should,
Leslie Kern (37m 42s):
They can go to the Verso books website and there you can order the physical copy of the book or the ebook. And I always encourage people to either find it at their local bookstore, ask their bookstore to order it in for them too.
Jeff Wood (37m 56s):
We often say you can get it at bookshop dot Oregon, pick your local bookstore, which is a good way if you can’t get out, which hopefully most people can get out these days. But yeah, go definitely check it out. Well, Leslie, thank you for joining us. We really, really appreciate your time.
Leslie Kern (38m 8s):
Thank you for having me. It’s been a great conversation