Makenzie Gold Quiros
In her article “Architectural Exclusion: Discrimination and Segregation Through Physical Design of the Built Environment”, Sarah Schindler examines the systemic racism ingrained in the very design of our urban areas. She discusses cities with a history of gentrification and racism such as Atlanta and Memphis in her introduction, presenting “low bridges, road closings, and the construction of walls-as well as the placement of transit stops, highway routes, one-way streets, and parking-by-permit-only requirements.” as practices of architectural exclusion, which is discussed more thoroughly in “Part II” of her full paper. In essence, Schindler identifies two major factors that cause this oppression: architectural exclusion and exclusion through the courts.
Part I of Schindler’s paper examines the history of the exclusion or expulsion of unwanted peoples from certain environments by structuring the area around them. Things such as “a park bench that is divided into three individual seats with armrests separating those seats” is in fact created in order to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them, and yet to the everyday eye it is simply a park bench. Schindler points out these subtle differences, also present in things such as one way streets or highways that run through certain neighborhoods, become part of the landscape around us when we are not affected by it. This point leads directly into her second section “Part II Architectural Exclusion: Practice”, in which she discusses specific examples of how architects have intentionally designed physical barriers in order to stop “racial minorities and low-income groups” from accessing other, oftentimes wealthier areas of the city. She speaks of Robert Moses, the architect who designed the overpasses on Long Island “to hang low so that the twelve-foot tall buses in use at the time could not fit under them.” This prevented many people why did not have or could not afford a car, and instead used public transportation, from accessing Jones Beach, which was a public park of acclaim designed by Moses himself. Schindler goes on to examine the placement of public transportation stops and overpasses and the similar effects they have on limiting the motion of people from poor or minority areas.
Part III of Schindler’s paper provides an overview of the history of exclusion through law and policies, revealing what a subtle art it is. “The bottom line seems to be,” Schindler writes, “that the Supreme Court has been fairly active and responsive in striking down laws that create “formal racial barriers” …but not so when considering other “less obvious forms of discrimination”- including (to some extent) exclusionary zoning and architectural exclusion.” In other words, our court systems have cut down laws that are openly discriminatory, creating a good face, but doing nothing to halt the flow of discrimination in other areas through more creative means. This has been allowed, Schindler theorizes, through “a long history of norm in support of segregation in the United States.” The United States was founded on slavery and developed with it for years, it was so ingrained into our culture that the idea of ending slavery split the country in two and cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Since then the racism and classism of the time hasn’t gone away, it has only become more subtle and harder to pinpoint; which is where “Part IV Architectural Exclusion in the Courts: A Lack of Attention and Success” begins on the idea that if the court turns its head, no one will notice. The art of architectural exclusion is so subtle that oftentimes people are reluctant to bring an issue to court, a feeling that is touched on multiple times and even gets its own paragraph in Part IV. Because of the general ambivalence of the court, it has successfully marginalized the problems of exclusion and made it so that a person or several people would require large amount of funding and legal representation in order to have a successful case.
To conclude her article Schindler finishes with “Part V Problems and Solutions” and “Conclusion”, in which she suggests that education on the legacy of racism in the United States and “large-scale rebuilding” through laws similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act are the two foremost solutions to architectural racism. She points out that “it will likely be more difficult to eradicate existing exclusionary infrastructure than to prevent the creation of future barriers to access”, meaning that starting now the public should be aware of these problems, and not stand by to let them happen. She concludes with a plea to our morals, entreating the reader to treat racial lines as things of the past and work to make it so around us.
Schindler, Sarah. “Architectural Exclusion: Discrimination and Segregation Through Physical Design of the Built Environment.” Yale Law Journal -. Yale Law Journal, Apr. 2015. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.