Segregation Through Infrastructure and Agriculture

In her article “Architectural Exclusion: Discrimination and Segregation through Physical Design of the Built Environment,” Sarah Schindler claims that infrastructure and architecture are responsible for maintaining discrimination in cities and towns. She provides several examples from Connecticut, such as a fence in New Haven and a concrete barrier in Bridgeport, in addition to areas outside of the United States, to suggest that governments do not need to write laws to separate groups of individuals (27). By putting up physical borders between different income-classes of people, these varying groups are immediately segregated. Although we may have not consciously recognized it, the government or private businesses have been altering infrastructure to sever groups. While it may be normalized to have these segregated areas, some groups have lesser privileges and opportunities as a result. Schindler’s purpose is for more people to recognize their unconscious bias, and to acknowledge the government’s role in segregating people through architecture. Individuals may not even realize or question why the borders are there, they simply accept it as if it is natural, and Schindler’s goal is for others to reject the normalization of discrimination.

Image of the fence in New Haven, CT
Image of the fence in New Haven, CT

Schindler states that the government is partially responsible for developing these locations, and may be unknowingly, or knowingly, manipulating people to segregate those who are already discriminated against to begin with. To begin, according to Schindler, “many planning decisions facilitate exclusion within cities” (14). For example, the government refused to build new housing developments without a dividing wall (The Eight Mile Wall) due to an already existing development for the black community (24). The wall would further separate these two communities, thus making it even more difficult for others to overcome the unconscious and racial bias that may have already been formed. Schindler continues by highlighting the fact that by preventing these different groups from unifying, it will be extremely difficult for individuals of varying races to see each other as equals. More importantly, these divides prevent people from finding employment, and improving their economic and social well-being. When the government establishes buildings or forms of architecture that creates clear separation between different living conditions or areas, it is natural for the divide between groups to widen.

The Eight Mile Wall in Detroit
The Eight Mile Wall in Detroit

Schindler’s argument is that by preventing people from accessing public transportation, they are immediately being isolated, and are provided with less opportunities to succeed than the rest of society. Individuals from lower-income areas have difficulty getting to areas that are not near or accessible to public transportation, and as a result, there is a negative stigma attached to them when they are in these locations. To continue, Schindler states, “many communities actively push their elected decision makers not to bring transit stops to their neighborhoods” (30). Although people of varying socioeconomic statuses often use public transportation, a majority of lower-income and African Americans have no other option and are likely to be forced to use these methods. The less areas these groups can get to, the harder it gets for them to find employment. Without employment, it is nearly impossible for those of lesser economic status to successfully break unemployment and poverty.

Transit stop in Silver Spring
Transit stop in Silver Spring

As Schindler previously stated, it is very difficult for real breakthroughs to happen if the system is not changing. Additionally, it is challenging for there to be true change in the way we see people if individuals are unaware that they are unconsciously separating groups of people. This behavior simply “‘becomes just another part of the landscape’” (11), meaning that racist thoughts and actions are normalized and blend into the culture and structure of society. People may not go out of their way to be hurtful, but little actions and architectural structures contribute to segregation. When the government itself is establishing these bridges and walls, it allows others to excuse their own behavior, especially when the Supreme Court does not make any progress either. Schindler comments on the City of Memphis v. Greene case in which the court decided that the closing of a street connecting an all-white neighborhood to a black one was constitutional (6). It is extremely difficult to make any progress when the government itself is contributing to the racial divide. Overall, Schindler does not blame one individual for the lack of progress on architectural exclusion. She delegates responsibility to the government for creating these boundaries, society for accepting and adapting to them, and the Supreme Court for allowing these physical separations to continue.

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