Too often urban planning doesn’t take childcare needs into account. Is that because those involved don’t talk to the people who do most of it?
In her book Invisible Women, Caroline Criado-Perez argues that not only is medical and other research biased against women, but that our entire infrastructure is often designed without women’s needs in mind. Take urban planning. She talks about transport provision and says cities are often designed around commuters, rather than those with caring responsibilities who may have different needs in navigating the transport system. This has really struck a chord with me of late.
I live in a small village which is not well served by public transport. Buses come infrequently and they stop running fairly early in the evening. I guess it doesn’t make financial sense to run them outside of commuter hours. That means that if you go to the station and you need to get there after the school run and be back at a certain time – say, by school finish – you need to go by car and park somewhere near. However, the station car park is full by around 6.15am and, with every month that passes, it gets full earlier. At some point people will be sleeping in their cars.
All the roads around the station are restricted – you cannot park on the nearer ones between 10 and 11am to stop the commuters and the ones further away are parking permit only. I can understand the hassle commuters parking in your road must cause people who live near the station. However, that means the only option is to park in the one car park behind the high street, which also gets full fairly early on and which requires either lots of coins or for you to download the app and fill in the form at a time where you are likely extremely stressed because you’ve been driving around looking for somewhere to park for half an hour and you have no spare change. There is a park about 20 minutes from the station, but it only opens at 9.05am and stays open until 10pm “or dusk, whichever is earlier”. Clearly dusk is significantly earlier than 10pm at the moment, but quite difficult to pinpoint with any degree of certainty.
People are now taking to parking in housing estates 30 minutes walk from the station [after these there are just loads of winding roads where it would be unsafe to park] or in a local hospital where the parking meters are not working, which means patients can’t park there. The whole thing is bonkers. Either you have to go to work really, really early or really, really late or get the bus. This means that if you have children and need to go into town for a morning meeting and be back to pick them up from school because, in the countryside, schools are not necessarily very near either your home or each other if you have more than one child, you have to do a lot of logistics planning the night before. For instance, the primary school breakfast club [for which I thank God every day because for many years there was nothing] opens at 7.45am. Secondary school is a two-hour commute on bus, tube and train. All require cash and there is no cashpoint for miles.
If you commute every day you probably have a routine and have worked out how to make it work, but if you are lucky enough to work mainly from home and only go into meetings and conferences every now and then and your partner cannot leave work at 2pm to do the school run [particularly not more than once a week if you have several meetings bunched together] you will have to trust to chance. Basically you set out at a certain time with absolutely no idea of how long it is going to take you to find a parking space or even whether you are going to find one at all. It’s parking roulette.
I was sitting in the station taxi building the other day. My partner had dropped me at the station at 6am and I had to take a cab to get to my car to pick up the kids from school. There was a grandmother there waiting. The bus had not turned up so she was having to take a cab to the school to collect her grandchild and take her home. It was fairly expensive, considering the school was not too far away. It wasn’t the first time.
It’s a problem that is getting worse rather than better because more houses are being built and parking permit zones are being extended.
The idea is that doing so will reduce traffic and make the world greener, but life doesn’t really work that way in the absence of supporting infrastructure. Instead, it just makes people incredibly stressed because the planners have not talked to real people about their lives and needs and nothing much is joined up. I know I started from the point of Invisible Women and I’m not saying that only women face these kind of pressures outlined above, but in the main they are still more likely to work non-traditional hours and not to fit the 9-5 commuter model. Better still, government could provide proper and flexible after school facilities and not just netball or football for one hour for one particular narrow age group.
Whatever, getting through the week should not be the logistics battle it currently is. Everything to do with parenting seems to be designed to make you aware that basically you’re on your own and it’s down to you to make it work against all the odds that are thrown at you.