Reading Summary 1

Reading summary 1: Architectural Exclusion:  Discrimination and Segregation through Physical Design of the Built Environment

In Architectural Exclusion: Discrimination and Segregation through Physical Design of the Built Environment, Sarah Schindler questions why lawmakers who are supposed to create and enforce anti discrimination laws fail to recognize architectural exclusion.  Even though it can be hard to see in everyday life, Schindler points to street grid designs, one way streets, lack of sidewalks and crosswalks, highways, transit stops and even parking permit requirements and how they can shape the demographics of cities and neighborhoods.

Architecture creates exclusion in many ways.  Certain amenities which are featured in residential developments are generally expensive which means most low income families cannot afford them, in turn only giving higher income families access. Physical barriers like bridges can also limit access to places.  In Long Island bridge overpasses were designed to be low enough to prevent buses used at the time from traveling under them.  This limited access of racial minorities and low income individuals using public transportation to Jones Beach.  These bridges were the design of Robert Moses, the city planner who is considered to be the “master builder” of New York (Schindler).  Moses even vetoed a proposed extension of the Long Island Railroad to Jones Beach.  Robert Moses’s biographer suggests the decision was due to “social-class bias and racial prejudice” (Schindler). By building those bridges so low, he excluded individuals from areas that he did not want them.

Another physical example of a barrier is the wall built in 1940 in Detroit known as the Eight Mile Wall.  This wall was constructed to separate an existing black neighborhood from a new white neighborhood. Even the Federal Housing Administration contributed to this by financing only projects that were residentially and racially segregated.  Additionally, high and long fences were shown in the article as examples of these barriers between black and white housing.  Examples of barriers and walls mold traffic patterns as well.

Communities also can have a dramatic effect on the mobility of individuals by the design of public transit stops. Rejected proposals to bring Atlanta’s MARTA transit network into suburban communities limits black city residents’ ability to obtain access to more suburban areas and things offered there such as jobs.  Highway routes and road infrastructure have often placed highway off-ramps in order to filter traffic away from wealthy communities.  In many instances highways are built to make places more accessible to cars, but the work was done in areas where poor communities had to be eliminated.  The article also claims that communities rely on confusion techniques to keep people out.  These techniques include one way, dead end and curvy streets, along with confusing signage.

Historically, communities used legal zoning methods and later on covenants to keep minorities out of certain areas. It is still very hard to prove architectural exclusion. It is hard to find solid evidence or prove their intent was to discriminate against a certain group of people. Architectural exclusion is still very common through zoning and public transportation, but it is unlikely the courts will do anything about it because of their current political and judicial environment. Schindler’s article is an attempt to educate those living in and using architecture used to exclude every day in hopes that they will raise a voice to the cause.