Building Walls in Our Own Cities

In Part II of Sarah B. Schindler’s Architectural Exclusion: Discrimination and Segregation through Physical Design of the Built Environment the argument is made that segregation and exclusion is not simply facilitated by the government through the law, but through the built environment and architecture. As Schindler points out in her introduction, “[d]ecisions about infrastructure shape more than just the physical city; those decisions also influence the way that residents and visitors experience the city” (1939). The article continues to go on about how the exclusion process works, and Schindler goes into great detail about various examples of manipulated build environments. Physical barriers and transit are the two main topics in Part II since they are arguably, the two methods that the widest range of people. Take modern day Washington D.C. for example. If you look at Chinatown, the Verizon center separates the more “undeveloped” residential part of the neighborhood from the hustle and bustle that the National Portrait Gallery attracts. Whether this was intentional or not, it certainly creates a divide in the neighborhood. As for transit, the SafeTrack initiative is a major method of exclusion, if you really look at it. Metro trains stop running at midnight for “public safety” when anyone who lives in or has been to the D.C. area knows that it can easily take at least an hour to get from one side of the city to another. Now add in people working late shifts in the area. If you get out of work around 11:30pm and the trains stop running around midnight and you have to get from Foggy Bottom to New Carrolton, you might be in a bit off trouble if you get out of work late or even if the metro itself is having issues. Sure, you could argue that these are “design flaws” or that they’re “for the good of the general public,” but as Schindler demonstrates in her article, it is quite easy for architects and local city officials to manipulate a built environment to become what they want it to be for who they want it to be for.

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