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A City's Design Can Help Foster Racial Equality, Say Eight Experts

Turning infrastructural divides into opportunities

A participant at a workshop draws his vision for an abandoned building
Photo via Place Lab

There’s been plenty of conversation lately about how inequality continues to be enforced by American institutions, and nowhere is this more prevalent than in the design of our cities. In fact, this is the very reason that highways which severed our neighborhoods have become flashpoints for protests in recent years. But what can cities do to fix this? In a timely and intelligent piece at Co.Design, Diana Budds asks eight experts how we can start to retrofit the urban realm to repair our past mistakes.

When you start to think about race and cities, the first thing that comes to mind are centuries-old housing covenants, the urban policy laws designed to keep certain ethnicities out of neighborhoods by determining who was allowed to own property. These laws continue to segregate communities long after they were abolished.

But there are so many less obvious ways that cities have institutionalized racism, like limiting transit accessibility. Here’s a disheartening example that Budds includes: Robert Moses kept New York City’s low-income residents from reaching Long Island beaches by designing bridges that were too low for buses to drive beneath.

A diverse lineup of architects and planners provide their ideas for repairing segregated cities, from engendering a more inclusive design culture to increasing the number of public swimming pools. There are incredible insights from big thinkers, including Columbia University professor Justin Moore, Isis Ferguson of University of Chicago’s Place Lab, and Vishaan Chakrabarti of the Partnership for Architecture and Urbanism. It’s a fantastic read that will get you thinking about how your city needs to change—and how you can help it to evolve.