In this study we examine the spatial practices and lived experiences of an understudied subgroup, observant Muslim women of Arab descent, to explore the extent to which they experience representation and inclusion in the context of Brooklyn, New York. In an attempt to provide a more in-depth understanding of space, we utilize a phenomenological approach in which gender is central. We conceptualize our analysis based on Lefebvre’s spatial triad. The narratives of the women in this study elucidate how they interpret and navigate publicly accessible urban spaces as women marked by both ethnicity and religious difference in a multicultural city such as New York. Our study finds that the physical accessibility of public spaces, the aspect that planners tend to emphasize, matters for the observant Muslim women in this study both in ways with which planners are familiar and in other ways. The main aspects of physical accessibility that facilitated
their sense of inclusion and engagement in Bay Ridge public spaces are the ease of getting around, often called ‘walkability’ in planning circles, the extent of access to mass transit, and the types of destinations in the area. Streetlights and the openness of public spaces were also critical to participants’ lived experiences, as was the presence of a number of women wearing the Islamic headscarf. The latter enabled participants to become active actors in space because they marked a place as culturally, religiously, and socially appropriate for them. Participants’ lived experiences (representational space) in turn shaped and were shaped by the characteristics of physical space. For example, well-lit open spaces enabled their spatial engagement because this made them visible to the community and at the same time allowed them to see the community. For immigrant women the Arabic landscape of the neighborhood marked by the Arabic signage, the Arabic language being spoken, and women wearing the Islamic headscarf provided them an opportunity to communicate with other women who share their cultural and religious values (spatial practice), and thereby to experience a safe space of normalcy (representational space).