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Discrimination by Design

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

Racism has been prevalent in the design of neighborhoods, and it is still an issue that many people of color are fighting against. Architects, designers, and planners should take responsibility for promoting a diverse community while keeping in mind the uniqueness of each culture in architecture. Here are some examples of how architecture was used as a tool and how they commemorate racial inequality in the history of civic buildings:

You can’t talk about discriminatory design without mentioning city planner Robert Moses, whose public works projects shaped huge swaths of New York City from the 1930s through the 1960s. The physical design of the environment is a powerful tool when it’s used to exclude and isolate specific groups of people. And Moses’ design choices have had lasting discriminatory effects that are still felt in modern New York. Source

  1. Robert Moses’ Urban Renewal: In account, minority neighborhoods were bulldozed for urban renewal projects, almost all of his public works projects were placed out of reach of the poor. The most infamous one is the low-bridge Moses’ designed over the Long Island Expressway to keep buses from the city away from the Jones Beach. In the 1920s, the majority of the bus commuters were non-whites or lower-class whites. He designed the bridge’s clearance of 8.5 feet neglecting the public buses that in standard at 12 feet, this kept non-whites out of Jones Beach and is a manifestation of a racist design. Source

Of course, the design of a neighborhood is more than just infrastructure. Zoning laws and regulations that determine how land is used or what schools children go to have long been used as a tool to segregate communities. All too often, the end result of zoning is that low-income, often predominantly black and Latino communities are isolated from most of the resources and advantages of wealthy white communities. Source

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