How does space construct social difference? How do cities shape the possibilities and identities of different groups of people? With urban inequality on the rise, these questions hold ever greater relevance today. Women, especially, continue to face significant obstacles and vulnerabilities in cities worldwide. Yet, it remains hard to fathom how contemporary cities reproduce such disparities between the sexes without understanding the way gender inequity was built into the urban fabric and urban discourse from the early modern period onwards.

I argue that urban green spaces have played a crucial, albeit largely overlooked, role in producing urban gender inequality. To date, historians have operated under the assumption that urban nature lacked the segregating powers of the built environment. Yet, there resides a connection between the seclusion of green spaces and the longstanding association of these spaces with women. This project explains how the evolution of urban nature at the birth of the modern city was implicit in women’s exclusion from urban space.

The project pursues a pioneering approach to study the gendered uses of green spaces in the modernizing city. My research focuses on the long 18th century as a transformational period in both the relationship between urban and natural space and between the sexes. The project takes the form of a systematic comparison of two major cities following distinct trajectories of urban development: Berlin and Amsterdam. By considering gardens, public green and the urban fringes concurrently, the project is the first to offer a comprehensive analysis of the gendering of urban nature in relation to the city in its entirety. Through a multidisciplinary approach combining the methodologies of architectural and social historians, this project makes a crucial contribution to our knowledge on the history of urban gender inequality. 

This research is conducted at the University of Amsterdam, School of Historical Studies under the supervision of Dr. Danielle van den Heuvel and Prof. Dr. Erik de Jong. It is affiliated with the Freedom of the Streets Project

Initial work on this project was funded by the Elisabeth J. Brandenburg Foundation. Starting September 2018, this project is funded by an individual grant from NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research) as part of their 'PhDs in the Humanities' Program