Vienna - ©Alexander Johmann,

Gender-sensitive park design at Einsiedlerpark and St. Johann Park

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Main actors

City Government, other

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Project area

Neighborhood or district

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Ongoing since 1999/01

Gender-sensitive solutions to enable girls and young women to utilize public spaces and parks in a safer and better way

The basic idea of re-designing existing parks in gender-sensitive ways is to give girls and young women better positions in public spaces and public parks. Girls aged between 10 to 13 years spend less time in public parks. Therefore, specific interests concerning games, sports, and other leisure-time activities are to be incorporated into public park design.

During an intensive planning phase, six consultant planning offices, in cooperation with interested park visitors, female planning experts, and sociologists, paid great attention to girls’ interests and also to strategies to raise feelings of safety in parks. In the end, two agencies rearranged and redesigned two parks in Vienna’s fifth district. Appropriate design elements, proper lighting, and clear and open common areas changed the parks completely.

The City of Vienna intends to have ‘design’ parks in all 23 city districts following ‘gender-specific’ guidelines, which also shows the high level of transfer possibilities. The responsible Office for Planning and Housing Construction Methods, That Take Account of Women’s and Everyday Needs assumed supervision of this park design project with regard to incorporating girls' interests.

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Reduce inequality within and among countries
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Vienna, Austria

Size and population development
2011: 1,720,000; 1990: 1,539,000; 2025: 1,943,000; 2010-2015: +0,75%/year

Population composition
its population amounts to one quarter of the population of the country ; nearly 40% of the Viennese population have full or partial migrant background

Main functions
Capital City; cultural, economic, and political center

Main industries / business
mechanical, electrical, chemical, metal, and import industries

Political structure
Vienna has federal state status : Mayoral (mayor also serves as governor) system with a city council

Administrative structure
23 districts

Shortage of open areas is characteristic for big cities, and existing open spaces are used primarily by more or less assertive members of the target group. In comparison with boys, girls often tend to be more reserved. From the age of 10 to 13 years, girls withdraw almost completely from public parks. Only one-third of girls this age visit public parks, in comparison to boys.

The objective was to focus on girls’ interests by re-designing two public parks, and increase the presence of girls in public outdoor spaces expanding their scope of action. Another purpose was to increase sensibility for gender questions in general and to have intensive professional exchanges during the planning phase.

New design ideas should be rearranged in existing parks to offer girls and young women a gender-sensitive place and achieve a more balanced situation between male and female children in public parks. Girls should be motivated to use park areas more often.

Feelings of subjective safety should be raised as well by means of appropriate design elements.

In addition to girls and young women, elderly people and parents with little children should be taken into account.

In April 1999, the City of Vienna advertised a Europe-wide competition to redesign two parks in Vienna’s Margareten fifth district, Einsiedlerpark and St. Johanns Park (now called Bruno Kreisky Park). Six consultant city planning offices submitted proposals and took part in an intensive professional exchange of ideas, despite the competitive situation.

Based on sociological studies an all-female group comprised of planners and one sociologist carefully monitored and analysed the status quo. During a short and intensive planning phase, numerous meetings with residents, affected people in general, a group of active mothers, representatives of schools or kindergartens in the Margareten district, and so on, were held. The tight time schedule of just three months for joint organising and planning ended in a one-day-workshop in July 1999, in which the preceding activities were used to identify joint goals. Dialogue between local and external experts paid attention to girls' behaviour and towards developing strategies for their support.

A jury selected the best proposal: by tilia planning office, specialising in gender-sensitive park design, was accepted for Einsiedlerpark, and koselika planning office for the former St. Johann Park. At the beginning of 2000, detailed planning for re-structuring and re-designing the parks was completed. Alteration work on the two parks was finally completed in 2001.

The City of Vienna is planning on constructing at least one gender-sensitive park in each of the 23 city districts.

Costs for structural measures were covered by the 5th district’s budget allocation for public park redesigning. The gender-specific measures were financed by Vienna’s central budget. Fees for planners, jury members, and chairpersons participating in the competition were provided by the city coordinating Office for Planning and Housing Construction Methods That Take Account of Women’s and Everyday Needs.

Personnel resources were provided by the Office for Planning and Housing Construction Methods That Take Account of Women’s and Everyday Needs. The Office also maintains contact with residents and target audience members. A sociologist prepared a user analysis for project planning and assessment and a brief overview of the issue. Additionally affected people, park supervisors, and representatives of schools participated in discussions. Six consultant planning offices submitted proposals for the competition.

Premises for workshops, presenting the competition and exhibition were provided by Margareten district field operations and district council.

The two restructured parks are enriched the particular district and residents’ experiences. Especially for girls, these parks with the new design offer a wider scope for action. Specific elements, clear arrangement of space, a gender-neutral (ball game) activity field, and places for secluded retreat, motivate them to spend more time in the park. It also gives them a better chance to become generally acquainted with parks as their own space.

Helpful elements such as visibility in main avenues, constant all-over lighting, and transparent design make subjective safety increase for other target groups as well. Vienna parks -assistance also supports the process of attracting girls to the park areas by projects and presence in the parks which furthers safety feelings just as much.

The new design principles will also be used to plan or restructure existing parks in other districts or other cities. The City of Vienna provides an online booklet (in German) with a code of practice for gender-sensitive park design.

The reconstruction of the parks was a pilot project. Longer-term planned remodelling of the parks was given in the short term a gender focus. For this reason at the beginning much sensitisation work was necessary. Political support was important to convince parts of the municipal authorities of this woman-specific issue. Interest and openness towards the issue and the project on the part of local political representatives helped the project succeed.

The tight time schedule caused by the competition framework conditions resulted in great pressure for all actors involved.

Municipal authorities’ reservations slowed the progress. Sensitising activities were and still are needed. Continuous information and motivation for gender-sensitivity, acting in gender-sensitive ways, and the need to support girls is necessary. However, this project, and future plans in the city is a start.

The observation phase at the beginning combined with a user analysis proved useful for the discussion and the planning process. Visitors, residents, and relevant local authorities were consulted and involved from the very beginning to guarantee identification with the results.

Small-structured common areas, which can be used by several groups at the same time, motivate girls increasingly to spend their time in parks. If multi-functional play areas are provided, girls are motivated to become more physically active in parks. Girls' interests are also reflected in games chosen, thus providing an additional motivating factor. Clear arrangement and lighting of paths increase safety and encourage girls, young women, and elderly visitors to come and spend time in the park.

For sustainable development, related to girls spending their time in parks, more areas should be designed with a focus on their needs; a functioning and durable network of committed mothers, parents, and pedagogic care with emphasis on women is also necessary. Regular pedagogic care will enable them to take of their space with confidence and establish new social rules in their parks.

Many design elements are easily transferable to other parks. Concrete planning for specific locations does require participation by experts specialised in this subject.                                    

The City of Vienna has drawn up a strategy for Vienna to implement one girls' park per municipal district, to ensure that each of the 23 city districts has a redesigned gender-sensitive park in cooperation with the people concerned. The City has also issued a leaflet with a general code of practice for gender-sensitive park-design.

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Camille Toggenburger
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Camille Toggenburger

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