Women and the built environment

Colleague spotlight | Dr Karen Horwood


Karen Horwood

Dr Karen Horwood is a senior lecturer in Planning and a member of the School’s Women and the Built Environment research cluster.  Karen is an associate member of the Royal Town Planning Institute.  She is the gender mainstreaming lead for Women in Planning.  Karen was the convenor of the Women and Planning conference 2019 held at Leeds Beckett University, and leads the Women and Planning research group.

Tell us a bit about you and what led you to working with your School

I have been working in the School of Built Environment, Engineering and Computing since 2007.  Prior to this I worked for Leeds City Council in an urban regeneration and program management role – I used to manage the multimillion-pound Neighborhood Renewal Fund in Leeds.  Following the completion of my master’s degree I was delighted to be offered a fully funded bursary to undertake my PhD here at Leeds Beckett University.  This enabled me to bring the expertise gained in practice to a research role.  Since then I have continued to develop my research in the School and use this to inform teaching.

What makes you passionate about your work around Women and Planning and why is it important?

The ways our towns, cities, and rural environments are planned and developed matters.  It matters for people’s quality of life, their right to safe and healthy places, and the equality of access to resources.  For example, a poorly lit empty city street may feel less safe for women, a lack of access to toilets makes using the city harder, and car-dominated streets make navigation for those on foot less safe. Research shows us that the process of planning and designing such spaces is gendered, and we can do much better.  Recognising different needs, and acting upon them, results in better quality and more socially just places for everyone.  It is crucial that we have the research to understand the issues and solutions, and that through teaching we can work together to have better informed practice. 


How is collaboration integral to your work, and what are one or two collaborations that have been most meaningful to you?

Collaboration is central to my approach, rooted in feminist ways of working.

In 2019 I convened the Women and Planning Conference here at Leeds Beckett.  This conference sought to develop a conversation between academics and practitioners, and those in-between, and (re)build a network of those interested in women and planning in the UK.  The conference themes included historical understandings of women in planning, and how this informs us today and in the future. The conference brought together women in academia and practice, across generations, and from the UK and abroad to share and discuss women and planning.  Papers from this conference are being brought together in special edition.
More recently I have been collaborating with Women in Planning, an organisation that seeks to improve the position of women working in planning, as their gender mainstreaming lead.  Through this collaboration we have been able to provide a resource for better understanding gender mainstreaming, including invited talks to a range of events, most recently the Festival of Place.


What achievements in this area have you been most proud of while working in The School of the Built Environment, Engineering and Computing?

I am very proud to be able to support two professional doctorate students in the School who have received fee bursaries for their research.  Deborah Broomfield is researching the environmental and economic shocks in planning and their disproportionate impact on women, whilst Charlotte Morphet is researching women in leadership positions in planning. Both were participants at the 2019 conference.  I am very proud to be able to support them in their development as researchers and be a part of the wonderful work they are doing.

At a personal level I am proud to have been listed as one of The Planner’s Women of Influence 2020 in recognition of my academic work.

Most recently I have been proud of one of my Master students who took a presentation she did for one of my modules back to her workplace, to start a conversation about gender mainstreaming, leading to interest across departments.  I am delighted that my teaching sparked an interest that will go on to shape and have impact upon practice.

Outputs and recognition:

Gendered spaces: from public toilets to public policy

The Planner 

Twitter: @karenhhorwood


Dr Karen Horwood

Karen is a geographer and planner. She has a particular interest in women and planning, and is convening the Women and Planning in the UK conference May 2019.

Karen's research examines planning policy in relation to the needs of women. She is also interested in the histories of women and planning activity, and how this informs approaches to day and in the future.

Karen is a committee member for Women in Planning Yorkshire Branch and prior to joining Leeds Beckett, Karen worked in regeneration at Leeds City Council.

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