Schindler’s Theory of Architectural Exclusion

In Sarah Schindler’s publication, “Architectural Exclusion: Discrimination And Segregation Through Physical Design Of The Built Environment,” she identifies the features of city design that intentionally and unintentionally contribute to the exclusion of so-called “undesirable” populations. These often include people of color and the poor. Regardless of intentions, this form of social engineering leads to the division of racial and class identities in ways that are difficult to reverse.

Schindler describes three ways in which cities what she describes as “regulation.” The first two are blatantly obvious to viewers of most backgrounds: the use of laws and ordinances, and the use of threats and intimidation. The third is what she terms as the theory of “architectural exclusion.” The first two are clear and unveiled attempts at discrimination, making them easy targets in civil rights suits and activism. Architectural exclusion is much more difficult to address because its causal effect on regulation requires much deeper investigation to ascertain (1942). In many cases, the architect or urban planner is not even acting on conscious biases, but rather on the mandate to improve efficiency in the city. Schindler identifies two major categories of urban features that contribute to exclusion. These include physical barriers to access as well as transit system placement (1953).

Physical barriers describes a wide array of specific features but all share in the fact that, by design or externality, they hamper a specific group’s access to another area. Often it is the case that lower-class citizens and people of color are unable (without significant effort) to reach attractions or neighborhoods that are designed for and populated by upper-class, caucasian residents. Schindler cites the example of a road in Long Island leading to a popular local beach (1953-1954). When an architect was tasked with designing bridges over this roadway, he lowered them to the point that it would be impossible to fit city buses under them. Thus, he was able to exclude the large group of citizens who rely on public transportation, usually people of color and the poor. Biographical evidence points to racial bias as being the largest motivator of this architect.

While this anecdote suggests racial motivations behind this decision, most related barriers can be attributed to oversight or overridden priorities such as efficient traffic flow. An example of this is the construction of one-way roads in residential areas to support continuous travel while coincidentally making neighborhoods more confusing and unnavigable by outsiders (1969). Another example of this is the lack of pedestrian infrastructure that allows foot traffic through the expressways that so often divide minority communities from commercial and recreational centers (1954-1955, 1965). This may be described as being for the purpose of public safety or efficiency but nonetheless is effective in what may constitute a “blockade” of minority communities.

The other major method by which architectural regulations are made is the placement and operation of metropolitan transit systems including buses, subways, and light rail systems (1960-1961). Rationally, access to public transit would be beneficial to residents, but many upper-class citizens actively campaign against metro systems to prevent an influx of undesirable groups into their communities. This affects job access, recreational activities, and commercial opportunities for lower-class citizens and people of color. Another administrative option to enforce exclusion is the imposition of parking permits on residential streets (1972-1973). This prevents outsiders from accessing a community without express allowance by a resident and restricts the ability to travel freely throughout the city. Both of these features are common to many American metropolitan areas such as New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C.

The built environment carries with it a rhetoric that often goes unnoticed by the residents it affects. Nevertheless, it remains an integral part of the lives of millions of urban individuals throughout the world. Ostensibly, urban design may have the aim to increase efficiency and maximize economic output, but professionals in the field must maintain awareness of the externalities of architectural regulation that fragment communities and segregate groups into stratas of class and race.

Space in Political Theory

In chapter 2 of David Fleming’s City of Rhetoric, he contends that contemporary political theory largely ignores physical place in its conception of the Citizen. In this conception, the citizen is viewed as one in a sea of spaceless, homogenous entities. Fleming posits that modern advancement, rather than leading to the rapid de-spatialization of politics, has in fact reaffirmed the importance of space and place in the public. In view of this, past theories must be responded to in order to confront our shifting reality.

Fleming claims that the societies of Athens in its height, Venice, Genoa, and early Rome are the manifestations of Republicanism in its purest practical form. It is a temporal and geographic representation of the State in which the highest virtue and greatest responsibility of the individual is the active participation of the citizen in civic life. In fact, this is crucial as the political arguments of the individual are meant to steer society as a whole in new directions. This theory can no longer be wholly applied to any current society as it largely runs antithetical to what we now identify as the human right to act as an individual rather than a servant of the “common good.”

Liberalism would argue that societal direction and individual freedom comes not from argument and political action, but rather from laws, institutions, and procedures. The most salient objective of the individual is not participation in civic life, but enrichment and happiness in private life. A republican citizen works for the common good while the liberal one works toward their own ends.

Both of these theories maintain the importance of place in society. In a Republic, space is a small community in which all citizens are familiar with their fellow community-members. Life occurs in the public arena of forums, parks, squares, and stages. The conception of individual life is constant public discourse by which to ensure collective self-governing of the society by ethical and interested citizens. The spatial aspect of liberalism is private. It occurs in homes, at jobs, and in the pursuit of personal interests. This means that the places of liberal societies are insulated from its politics rather than guiding it.

Fleming argues that neither of these theories quite explain the postmodern societies in which we now live. Fleming believes that interconnection and intersectionality is the spatial aspect of today. This is the phenomenon of the network, decentralized yet interacting horizontally and vertically in a flexible structure of shifting and changing parts. It is the pivot to the digital age that brings the network into society. Fleming identifies three key spatial features of this new era: globalization, diaspora, and multipositionality. Globalization is the movement of entities across the points of a network. In the physical world this entails the global transfer of information as well as capital, labor, and products. Diaspora is the constant shift in demographics as migrants and tourists attain relative ease of access across the world. Multipositionality is the shift to identity as being varied and contradictory within each individual. This revolution in the components of society requires an equally revolutionary theoretical framework with which to understand it.

Commonplace Book: Entry 2: The Conversation

I mentioned in chapter 1 that we needed to cultivate public subjects who are capable of imagining themselves as situated within many complex networks. Not only are we all located within a specific home-work nexus, but we are also located within regional, national, and global networks. Furthermore, each of us is situated within transhistorical and transspatial networks of place. The choices we make for ourselves have effects on future times and places that do not only parallel our own lives. Thinking through these networks demands an ability to imagine the incongruent and asymmetrical networks within which our agency is lodged.

-“Distant Publics, Development Rhetoric, and the Subject of Crisis,” Jenny Rice

The passage doesn’t follow the “they say/I say” format because she compares her current point to that of the first chapter. As this passage occurs later in the publication, it does not necessarily present an alternative viewpoint.

The built environment is characterized by man-made physical features that make it difficult for certain individuals—often poor people and people of color—to access certain places. Bridges were designed to be so low that buses could not pass under them in order to prevent people of color from accessing a public beach. Walls, fences, and highways separate historically white neighborhoods from historically black ones. Wealthy communities have declined to be served by public transit so as to make it difficult for individuals from poorer areas to access their neighborhoods.

-“Architectural Exclusion: Discrimination And Segregation Through Physical Design Of The Built Environment,” Sarah Schindler

The wealthy communities say that they do not want public transportation service in order to prevent poorer individuals from entering, while I say that this in an unfair way to make it difficult for certain individuals to access the build environment.

This follows the “they say/I say” format because it offers two different points of view in the passage, one from the author and another from a third party.

Commonplace: Entry 1

  • IC. This independent clause culminates in a period. There are several additional options by which to end an independent clause.
  • IC. The state is the most basic unit of the Westphalian System. Some suggest that this may change in the near-future.


  • IC; Much controversy surrounds Guantanamo Bay; many activists allege the presence of human rights violations.
  • IC; Arabic is often construed to use an extremely difficult alphabet; usually it is the result of misunderstanding the number of distinct characters.


If the periods separating the first two independent clauses were to be replaced by a semicolon, it would not alter their mechanical viability. What it will do, however, is create a change in their flow and meaning. For instance, in its present state, the first sentence has a distinct pause between the point that the first clause ends in a period and the next point that suggests there are different ways to end a sentence. This makes it seem portrayed as two entirely different concepts. With a semicolon, the flow between the first and second clauses relates them to each other.

If the semicolons in the last two sets of independent clauses were replaced with periods it would separate the ideas and portray them as being entirely distinct of the other. For instance, in the third set, a period would portray the controversy surrounding Guantanamo Bay is distinct from the claims of human rights violations. While the mechanics are valid in both forms, it alters the meaning that the reader receives.