Reflections of gender on the urban green space

Umran Topcu (Department of Architecture, Bahcesehir Universitesi, Istanbul, Turkey)


ISSN: 2631-6862

Publication date: 27 August 2019



Urban green spaces including parks and gardens are an essential part of a network of physical and social well-being. They provide spaces to socialize and opportunities to connect with nature. They are restorative enclaves. When it comes to scaling down spaces in general, they form important constituent parts of what we call the setting in which we behave. Barker elaborated the notion of behavior setting by describing how our behavior is influenced and constrained by settings. A setting consists of the space, its contents, its surroundings, the people and their activities. As Norberg-Schulz puts it, this is a microcosmos that wraps people and the space. The paper aims to discuss this issue.


In this study a behavior setting with different spatial attributes in an urban green space, namely, Kriton Curi Park on the Asian side of Istanbul is observed. Landscapes used by both men and women may be gendered even if men and women use them at the same time. Women’s and men’s experiences of the same setting can be different. The difference is likely to be the outcome of both the physical attributes of the setting and/or the social construction of the society. However, a general attribute of genders’ experience of space is that women are more sensitive to spatial contents and more selective about the use of space. According to previous research, men and women do not have equal control over behavior settings in urban green spaces, in Turkey.


The findings of this study address a social fact that appropriate physical features of urban green spaces like Criton Curi Park and its immediate environment reveal a higher degree of equality in gender roles.


As the literature indicates parks being among urban green spaces are not yet studied enough in the Turkish context. This study is an attempt to study the status of women in open public space. For the sustainability of social relations parks become even more important.



Topcu, U. (2019), "Reflections of gender on the urban green space", Archnet-IJAR, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.

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1. Introduction

Public spaces are components of the public sphere. The public sphere is where strangers meet and public spaces can be conceptualized as an opportunity for the exchange of messages with diverse others (Habermas, 1989). Public spaces include streets, sidewalks, plazas and parks to which all people have legal access (Lofland, 1973).

The very first description of the difference between the public and the private goes back to Aristoteles. According to Aristoteles every citizen belongs to two layers of existence: the private and the public. Everything that exists in the public arena is open to everybody and provides us with the reality between us and the world. In the antiquity, public space was the domain of the free males. Norberg-Schulz (1988) puts it like, public space while creating a common arena for all of us, it also protects us from falling on top of each other. Sennett (1977) says public space is a creation of man’s need for formal existence.

The political and public attitude toward a democratic, multicultural society changed a lot as the twenty-first century drew closer. The concept of a democratic society as a melting pot where cultural differences became homogenized within an overriding expression of national culture has largely been replaced with a more pluralistic ideal. Rather than expecting conformity, we now strive to accept diversity in needs, attitudes and expression and therefore in provisions for the society. What remains true for public green space and for urban parks in particular is that they are places where democracy is worked out, quite literally on the ground and therefore, the way such spaces are designed, managed and used, demonstrates the realities of political rhetoric. The previously used term melting pot when used for a park turns into the salad bowl according to Catharina Ward Thompson (2002) where different cultures can find individual expression. Any survey of parks indicates that the majority of users want to come by foot and will only do so on a regular basis if the park is within 3–5 min walk of their home or workplace.

This paper is an attempt to look for a longitudinal exploration of a neighborhood park as an urban green space and what models for future city life will be accommodated in such places?

2. Conceptual and theoretical approaches to urban green space

Interaction with other people in the public sphere is a basic need for the human and it partly depends on the moderating capacity of the design of the urban green space. Metropolis today, with uncontrollable growth are not enough to satisfy this need. Outdoor spaces, including buildings and their immediate environments along with which urban green spaces can be mentioned, generally fail to satisfy the need. At least, this is true for the developing world.

Developing technologies, besides their many benefits, have not acted positively upon the promotion of people and environment relations. With the digital communication and personalization of daily life activities, borders and distances seem to vanish. People’s way of existence in urban spaces is being reshaped by digital technologies.

To be better understood, urban green spaces need sociological and psychological explanations along with their physical characteristics. Jon Lang (1987) has provided useful explanations of the topic. He says any situation or any phenomenon needs a theoretical explanation. Right explanations are very useful in making right projections for the future. A practice with a strong conceptual theory works better.

Semiotics tells us that form and content can be studied through indicators. Anyone in search of understanding the environment makes use of indicators. In urban studies, semiotics sees architecture as a language, while analyzing urban form, terms like indices, indicator and the indicated are used.

From behavioral sciences point of view, people’s conceptive connections with the environment and aspirations for the future shape people’s aesthetic values and the way they make use of the environment.

According to Whyte (1980), there are four characteristics that categorize an urban green space as successful:

  1. reachability;

  2. amount of activities involved;

  3. comfort of the space and a good image; and

  4. provisions for people to get together to promote more and sincere social activities.

All of these characteristics promote more social interaction.

3. Gender, gender of space and status of women in public sphere in Turkey

Gender is defined as the learned behavior and attitude of men and women and that is a socially constructed phenomenon (Malach-Pinesand and Kaspi-Baruch, 2008). Doreen Massey (1999) puts it as, gender and gender-related behavior are constructed by the society and the culture that the individual belongs to. Cohenour (2008) has a different definition, saying “How men and women describe privacy is a function of the gender they attribute to spaces.” Gender of a space is shaped by the way the space is used and is absolutely dependent on the imagination skills of the indigenous culture. All of these descriptions show that gendered space can be defined by way of physical occupation, cultural imagination and representation.

Urban green spaces, even when they are used by men and women simultaneously, they can be perceived differently. Research shows that feeling of being uncanny about a space is dominant in women. Gender studies in Turkey strongly stress on women–men inequality (Akın and Demirel, 2003; Dinçkol, 2005). This is why women are more precautious and selective in using the urban green spaces. A common result reached by research is that, urban green spaces that are more frequented by women are seen as more functional, as for their spatial characteristics. As women are seen as the object of the household and man as the bread winner, the status of women is not seen as equal with men. Research provides a proof of it. When women and environment are mentioned together in research in Turkish context, three different views prevail:

  1. women acts upon the environment;

  2. environment acts upon women; and

  3. there is no sign of women in the environment.

According to a study done in Trabzon, Turkey by Yılmaz (2006), women have limited access to public spaces due to social pressure and limited economic status. Another similar study (Üstün, 2009) indicated a similar result. Additionally, this study determined that access to urban green space crosses the domain of masculinity, which creates a reason for withdrawal from public domain for women, in Trabzon. Waterfronts, parks, cafes, etc. turned out to be places appropriate for women only in the daytime. The most important deficiency of research on this topic is insufficient research. Detailed studies on the gender differences in the use of urban green space and how do these spaces function through an analysis of gender are the questions remaining to be answered.

According to the findings reached through literature review:

  • depending on the gender roles constructed in Turkish society and women–men inequality, women users of urban green spaces may be expected to have limited access and limited chances for a variety of recreational activities;

  • women are expected to use the urban green spaces accompanied by family members, children and friends rather than alone; and

  • women are expected to avoid places with limited visual access (Plate 1).

4. Methodology

As mentioned in the abstract, Barker (1968) elaborated the notion of behavior setting by describing how our behavior is influenced by the setting. Settings comprise both the physical and the social environment. Barker’s theory utilizes a method for analyzing the relationship between the naturally occurring behavior and its ecological environment. Physical environment and the behavior are seen as an inseparable whole.

According to Le Compte (1974) items for data collection by using behavior settings should contain such questions:

  • Who goes where and why?

  • Who has control over the setting?

  • How many people spent time there and for how long?

  • What type of and how many behavior objects are used?

  • What sort of activities take place there?

Methodology used in this study follows a similar pattern. Place-based environmental mapping is an observational technique frequently used. By using this technique, both the people and the environment are not manipulated. A systematic recording of the observed area gives the researcher a chance to check how representative it is of real life situations. So observing the behavioral patterns in the case area and how related they are with the design of the urban environment is the methodology of this research.

Three different behavior settings with different attributes are chosen in an urban green space, namely, Kriton Curi Park on the Anatolian Side of İstanbul. It is in the Kadikoy district. This particular locale called Kozyatağı used to have a reputation of being a much preferred summer location in the early twentieth century due to its good weather and rich natural landscape. The locale lost this reputation after becoming a junction point for the peripheral roads of the Second Bosphorus Bridge. The park gets its name from the prominent environmentalist Prof. Dr Kriton Curi who used to start his classes with his famous quotation “Waste is a precious commodity found in unwanted locations.” The park presents an oasis full of pine trees, in the middle of concrete blocks. Landscape of the park is designed by Kadikoy Municipality. Sport activities along with music take place in the guidance of specialist teachers. A corner of the park was released to Acibadem Hospital. The hospital administration has paved the parkours in soft suitable materials in return. There are open, semi-open cafes that serve food and beverages for the park users. The office of the Kriton Curi Park Volunteers is also in the park. Contribution to the social life in Kadikoy and raising environmental awareness and providing children-first services to locals are the priorities of the volunteers.

There are three behavior settings chosen for observation:

  1. Behavior Setting I is at the main entrance of the park consisting of two sections equipped with various sports facilities and was much used in the mornings.

  2. Behavior Setting II is chosen from an area in the middle of the park, which is the most visible part from all the entrances of the park. Everyone entering the park passes through this location.

  3. Behavior Setting III is the amphitheatre at the far end of the park, which had no visual access from the main entrance.

Data are collected by recording the settings with video camera for two weeks, on weekdays and weekends, in September 2016, between 9–11 a.m. and 5–7 p.m. this time sequence and hours were chosen in accordance with the writer’s previous similar work done in 2009. The previous work was presented at XI. ISQOLS Conference with the title of “Neighborhood as dimension of QOL.” So, the park was studied again at an interval of seven years (Figure 1).

Kriton Curi Park is frequented in all seasons. September is a peak time of the park with the return of the summer holiday makers. Data collected is subjected to descriptive analysis and the numbers are arranged in relevant tables. In total, 5,325 users observed in the park, turned out to be 58 percent women, 19 percent men and 23 percent children. Due to indicators and data collected, it is obvious that majority of Kriton Curi Park users are women which is an indication of a strong difference with previous theoretical studies.

According to Tables I and II, 28 percent of women come to the park alone while only 5 percent of men. Obviously women have not given up on their existence in the open public space.

Behavior Setting I is a setting used both by women and men, but in the morning time interval men users constitute the majority of the users in the first section of it. Women users constitute the majority in the second section. When seen from numerical values, 54 percent women, 45 percent men, the gender difference is not statistically significant. Women and men equally involved in sports is a positive indicator as for the neighborhood.

Behavior Setting III is seen as mostly used by children (32 percent). Existence of women here manifested itself as mothers watching over their children.

5. Conclusion

As the literature indicates, parks being among open public spaces are not yet studied enough in the Turkish context. This study is an attempt to study the status of women in urban green space, through Kriton Curi Park. Number of park users indicates an increase, but the rates between genders are similar with the authors’ previous work in the same park.

Women constitute the majority of the park users in accordance with the author’s previous study. Women alone visit the park but general attitude is still going as a couple or within a group. As in Schultz’s definition, public space in the park provides a meeting place for people of both genders and by creating a microcosmos that wraps them up.

In sum, with the technological innovations people’s daily activities more and more take place in digital environments rather than the real ones. So, urban green spaces in the information age need to be studied repeatedly. For the sustainability of social relations, parks become even more important. Another fact is that appropriate environmental features promote social interaction and a higher degree of gender equality, like Kriton Curi Park of Kozyatağı Kadikoy. By providing and upgrading different behavior settings that is likely to attract different user profiles, this park keeps its reputation as a frequently visited one.

The author thinks that, the park as an urban green space for the meeting of strangers is also a place where people can be intimate, anonymous and therefore private.


Map indicating the behavior settings in the Kriton Curi Park

Figure 1

Map indicating the behavior settings in the Kriton Curi Park

Images from the Kriton Curi Park

Plate 1

Images from the Kriton Curi Park

Gender distribution between/inside the setting

Women Men Children Total
Behavior Setting I (Sports facilities)
Count 1,600 1,234 12 2,936
% within setting 54 45 1 100
% within gender 49 75 4 55
Total % 30 23 0.2 55
Behavior Setting II (Middle of the park)
Count 1,234 381 45 1,660
% within setting 74 23 3 100
% within gender 8 22 15 31
Total % 23 7 1 31
Behavior Setting III (Amphitheatre)
Count 436 57 236 729
% within setting 60 8 32 100
% within gender 13 3 81 14
Total % 8 1 4 14
Count 3,270 1,762 293 5,325
% within setting 61 33 6 100
% within gender 100 100 100 100
Total % 61 33 6 100

Gender distribution in groups

Alone Couple Only men Only women Mixed Total
Count 723 296 0 916 1,335 3,270
% within group 23 9 0 28 40 100
Count 832 201 95 0 634 1,762
% within group 47 11 5 0 37 100
Count 43 0 0 0 250 293
% within group 15 0 0 0 85 100
Count 1,598 497 95 916 2,219 5,325
% within group 31 9 5 15 40 100


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Corresponding author

Umran Topcu can be contacted at: