Reading Analysis: Architectural Exclusion (Part 2)

Analysis of Part Two of Sarah B. Schindler’s Architectural Exclusion: Discrimination and Segregation through Physical Design of the Built Environment

In part two of Sarah B. Schindler’s essay, she argues that the infrastructure and design of physical barriers, transit location, highway exits, and the design of residential neighborhoods are used to create racial and socioeconomic discrimination between upper and lower class communities and that our government contributed to the manipulation. She described multiple methods of exclusion including the lack of sidewalks, walls and fences, confusing roads, lack of transit stops, highway exits, and required paid parking. 

Physical barriers are an effective way to exclude those who are unwanted from local communities. Schindler uses the example of Robert Moses’s Long Island bridges. “Moses set forth specifications for bridge overpasses on Long Island, which were designed to hang low so that the twelve-foot tall buses in use at the time could not fit under them”(Schindler, 1953). This way, those who only have access to public transportation are unable to access the beach. In this case, the architect’s intent was to “favor upper-and middle-class white people who owned cars at the expense of the poor and African-Americans was due to his “social-class bias and racial prejudice”(Schindler, 1953). However, to the public eye, the bridge is seen as an innocuous feature rather than a discriminatory object. Additionally, the lack of sidewalks and crosswalks in neighborhoods pose a threat to those who have to walk or bike to their destinations. If someone wanted to walk or bike to another area that lacks a sidewalk, they would have to stick along the shoulder of a busy road. For example, “in Palo Alto, traversing Highway 101 to reach affluent West Palo Alto from low-income East Palo Alto is dangerous and involves passing through numerous busy intersections; the area has one of the highest rates of car-pedestrian collisions. The lack of secure pedestrian infrastructure makes areas more difficult to access in a safe and easy manner”(Schindler, 1955). In history, large fences and walls have been known to segregate one part of the community from another based on racial and economic factors. Walled ghettos were used to separate the Jews in Europe during World War II, “as were Arab and European traders in china”(Schindler, 1955). This was also seen in “Detroit in 1940, a private developer constructed a six-foot-high wall— known as Eight Mile Wall—to separate an existing black neighborhood from a new white one that was to be constructed”(Schindler, 1955). Shockingly, the project was actually approved by  Federal Housing Administration (FHA). It could be assumed that this government subsidy is in support of this racial divide. There has been instances where local governments take affirmative steps to install exclusionary architecture themselves. “For example, the concrete barriers and bollards that exist throughout the streets of Berkeley, California, were installed to calm traffic.”(Schindler, 1959). This is sometimes done to keep drug and gang violence of the streets. Although Schindler agrees with the public safety issue being controlled, she also believes that this is done to keep poor and other unwanted groups of people off the streets as well. 

In addition to physical barriers, “communities also engage in architectural exclusion in the way they design and place public transit and transportation infrastructure”(Schindler, 1960). Upper-class communities actively push their elected decision makers not to bring transit stops to their neighborhoods in hopes of keeping out low-income people and people of color who often rely heavily on public transportation. These “transit-siting decisions are also intimately connected to employment opportunities for minorities and low-income individuals”(Schindler, 1963). They are often forced to accept minimum wage jobs that are easily accessible. 

Furthermore,  “bridge exits and highway off-ramps are often located so as to filter traffic away from wealthy communities”(Schindler, 1965). The placement of specific highways and routes are another way the government has allowed for racial and socioeconomic segregation. For example, “the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge (formerly known as the Triborough Bridge), as it traverses the East River from Queens to Manhattan, makes an almost perpendicular hard right turn north, so that the traffic lets out in Harlem, not on the wealthy Upper East Side”(Schindler, 1965). This is also seen when “local government officials and state highway planners in Miami intentionally located I-95 so that it would cut through Over-town, an inner-city black community. Although it had previously been known as “the Harlem of the South,” Overtown became “an urban wasteland dominated by the physical presence of the expressway.””(Schindler, 1965). 

The lack of directional signs, guard gates, confusing cul-de-sacs, and parking permits furthers the discouragement of unwanted visitors in certain communities. These architectural features serve to keep out those who are not expressly allowed in. In neighborhoods that require paid parking permits, those who can’t afford it are less likely to enter the community, making it more exclusive for the middle to upper class. 

In conclusion, Schindler uses several examples to argue how architectural infrastructure is used to create racial and socioeconomic discrimination between upper and lower class communities.

Works Cited

Sarah B. Schindler, Architectural Exclusion: Discrimination and Segregation through Physical Design of the Built Environment, 124Yale L. J.1934 (2015).