Sense of a City

“Sense of a City: Inclusive, Safe and Sustainable Plovdiv” is a project by the Bulgarian Fund for Women, implemented as a part of the program Plovdiv – European Capital of Culture 2019. „Sense of a City” offers a model for sustainable development of Plovdiv based on a bottom-up approach, where the citizens – women and men from all social strata, ages and ethnic groups, are empowered to identify problems and to offer solutions improving the urban environment, while Bulgarian and international artists will demonstrate innovative and effective interventions in the urban environment. The project is multi-genre and offers unique approach towards re-thinking and transforming the city, which can be replicated outside the planned locations in Plovdiv, as well as in national and international context.

The „Sense of a City” general concept is based on the idea of Plovdiv being a secure and inclusive city, where all people, especially women and young girls, children and vulnerable groups such as the Roma community and the people with disabilities, live a free and secure lives, and the sanctity of the individual is guaranteed by the city environment as a basic human right. „Sense for a City” is based on the understanding that cultural and creative industries (art in particular) can offer ideas on how to improve live quality of citizens and that art can be a tool for building more stable communities.

Why the specific needs of girls, women and other socially vulnerable groups are important?

The traditional understanding in almost all cultures is that the private sphere is the domain of women, and the public sphere is reserved exclusively for men. Throughout the centuries city planning has been done by men for men. Even today, cities are built and predominantly governed by men often without attention to the needs and voices of women.

The public space is supposed to be a space of freedom, where all its users – all people have the right to feel safe and comfortable in it and are able to own it, use it and shape it according to their needs and understandings. In fact, many women still feel they are “intruders” in their own city, a city whose public space they are unable to claim for themselves.

The enjoyment and use of public space in cities is an indicator of quality of life. The street and public transport are not neutral ground, and the degree of freedom experienced by men and women when moving through the city is different. Women and girls experience situations of violence that are different from those experienced by men. Besides the fear of theft and assault, women experience the fear of rape and kidnapping and are exposed to a daily form of violence that is expressed through words, noises, phrases which humiliate them. This type of sexual violence affects their right to security, limits their use of public space and prevents them from attaining autonomy. Studies show that women change their routines more often than men. For example, women tend to stop going out alone after dark while men do not. That is why sustainable city should be based on the understanding that men and women have different experiences of living and working in the city (some based on gender inequality).

Public violence can cause women and girls to feel: ashamed of their bodies, gender, race, age, culture, ability, sexual orientation and other status; afraid of certain places and to avoid them; afraid of and to avoid leaving home alone; isolated from the larger community; unable to participate in public life; incapable compared to other (male) users of public space; distrust towards others in the public sphere, including neighbours; unable to access public services, education and support schemes for unemployment.

Making cities and communities safe for women and girls can expand their full social, economic, cultural and political participation as equal citizens, offering countless possibilities for the participation of women and girls in the areas of work, education, politics, and recreation. This guarantees the consideration of the different needs of other marginalized groups, such as migrants, ethno-cultural communities, people with disabilities, adolescents, the elderly, and others.

A gender mainstreaming approach

Sustainable urban development today is a pledge for the future. The urban population is becoming more diverse and numerous. We need a socially sensitive approach toward urban planning based on the so called gender mainstreaming in order to secure the participation, consideration of the needs of all citizens of a city and high quality of life in cities in the future. The gender-based approach recognizes the inequalities that characterize relations between men and women (and other vulnerable groups) and tries to proactively address them.

  • It recognizes that the city spatially reflects specific social, economic and historical characteristics that are unique for the local population.
  • It recognizes that the public spaces in a city are usually designed based on a traditional conception of the family and a traditional division of labour among women and men (men as workers in the public space and women as caretakers and home keepers in the home and private spaces). Furthermore, it promotes initiatives for changing this spatial organization in order to reflect the changing gender roles in the society.
  • It is a useful tool to improve the quality of urban and community life for everyone and to reduce women’s fear and victimization. If women and girls avoid using certain public spaces because they don’t feel safe, other people won’t feel safe either.
  • Safety planning and design for women and girls is important because it creates public spaces where all users have equal opportunity to be healthy, secure and happy.

Within this approach, special emphasis is given to violence prevention, community mobilization and participation, women’s empowerment, and the improvement of neighbourhoods and the urban environment in general. All these strategies are meant to enhance social relations and increase trust among all citizens in the community.


Through interdisciplinary approach and gathering a wide range of partners with a rich and established biography in the social, urban and art spheres, an exchange of ideas for sustainable development will be carried out among social workers, architects, urban planners and artists in the field of creative industries and will lead directly to improving the urban environment in a dialogue with citizens having in mind their needs.

Womenability is an international non-governmental organization based in Paris, whose exploratory walks in cities around the world are conducted with the support UN France. Its mission is to work for a fair and balanced urban environment by finding solutions for gender equality in its spatial planning and functioning. By now, Womenability has conducted walks in 25 cities around the world including Malmö, Prague, Zurich, Bombay, Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro.

Gender Alternatives Foundation works to promote equality and equal opportunities for all citizens in our society by supporting disadvantaged and/or socially deprived groups and others – victims of discrimination, people who need protection and support for integration and self-realization. Currently the organization is working on several international projects aiming at combating domestic violence and human trafficking, as well as national projects focusing on victims of domestic violence and overcoming gender stereotypes.

Consultancy Bureau Progress 7 Association aims at providing opportunities for integration of people from risk groups in the society through adequate socio-pedagogical, psychological, legal counseling and mediation activities, and at creating and developing social models and networks for integration and reintegration of groups at risk and socially excluded groups. The Association has a solid background in working with Roma communities and is enjoying the interest and trust of the local citizens.

The Fridge Association, represented by Ivana Nencheva and Nataliya Todorova, is an independent art space in Sofia, organizer and host of numerous art exhibitions and initiatives related to to topics of gender equality, social inequality, rights of vulnerable groups, as well as of the LGBT and the queer community. In addition  the association organizes  and participated  in debut performances of young artists, local and foreign guest projects, resident programs for curators and artists.  The Association will be responsible for the selection of the artists and the curation of the artistic interventions for urban transformation.


Photo Credit: © 2018 Milen Neykov


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