Via Tom Durning, Claire Neary writing in the Globe and Mail pictured herself as pretty self-reliant and relatively agile at traversing her city by foot or bicycle, transit or vehicle. But as she describes it once she had a baby and started to traverse the city with a baby carriage she learned all about the need for accessible ramps, automatic door openers and of course washrooms big enough to accommodate a baby stroller and a place to change a baby’s diaper.
The lack of easy mobility she had been used to was stifling~”My stroller was a no-go on the old streetcars nearby, I found buses awkward and intimidating and my closest subway station had an elevator still under construction and a terrifyingly narrow escalator. I occasionally braved these modes of transportation with my daughter tucked into a baby carrier, but she often screamed so much as I tried to strap her in that I gave up entirely. My world got a whole lot smaller.”
And that was in the summer.
During a Toronto winter, Ms. Neary was housebound many days with sidewalks that were not safely cleared, accentuated by her fear of falling on ice and her inability to push the stroller through snowbanks.
What Ms. Neary experienced is one of the reasons that I believe it will be young moms, accessibility advocates and care givers that will lead the call for universal accessibility and walkability of city streets and spaces. Young parents push strollers of babies and grab the arms of kids walking on city streets. They are also the care givers to family members, pushing wheelchairs or assisting parents walking with canes or mobility aids. They truly gain many experiences that inform their thoughts on safe and walkable places, and become expert on the best and safest routes for family members to school, shops and services.
The horrifying death of Malaysia Goodson, the young mother in New York City who tumbled down the stairs at a New York City subway station while carrying her daughter in a baby stroller is a case in point. Why was there no elevator? And why is basic equitable access not available for all transit users on all transit systems?
Ms. Neary mentions Alia Wong’s article in the Atlantic which interviewed transportation scholar Sarah Kaufman. Ms. Kaufman lays the blame pointedly at gender imbalances in the design professions, observing that women comprise only 20 percent of architects and are rarely the partners or principles at design firms.
Allison Arieff wrote about this two months ago, with one woman architect telling her “In many ways, architecture is a profession that has been the epitome of the dominant white patriarchy, from most of the celebrated starchitects to the all too frequent obsession with buildings that are better known for the beauty of the object than the quality of life that they enable.”
And it is that quality of life that is missing on a street that does not have curb ramps and cleared sidewalks, and buildings that do not have easy ways to access them for mothers with strollers and vulnerable users with mobility aids. Take a look at rapid transit~how is it that we do not have easily readable and accessible platforms and washrooms available for all users? Should we not be providing basic need services for those whose journey is a struggle and taxing, as well as the able-bodied and fit?
Scholar Sarah Kaufman says it best, describing how mothers and people assisting those with mobility challenges are fettered by city infrastructure and the lack of public transit amenities.
“Without a true consideration of how caregivers need to travel and the accommodations that should be warranted to them, cities cannot serve the needs of their populations.”