This week, I decided to make a short story video about time when urban design played a big role in propagating racial segregation – a very controversial phase in the American history called Urban Renewal. Pruitt Igoe is a prime example of how urban design has contributed to racial segregation but it's also a series of straight up racist policies and capitalist interests that initiated those projects and turned those places into slums almost overnight. The design of those buildings just cemented those racist policies and made them permanent.
I really wonder if those projects were intended to segregate and dehumanize people. I see so many planners and architects going into the field wanting to make the world a better place and find it hard to believe.
This is a quote from Arthur Simon, the author of Faces of Poverty, where he recounts his experience dealing with city officials who wanted to relocate his neighborhood. He says, "Much of our opposition came from well-meaning men who seemed incapable of putting themselves in the shoes of our neighbors... Repeatedly the HRB officials would wax indignant about the "rat- and roach-infested slums" which they wanted to remove. They had a point, and living as they did in far better conditions, they were probably saying what they honestly believed; but they never seemed to be able to see through the eyes of the poor and understand that an old, small place is better than no place at all. "
Rarely, urban design has intentionally created bad spaces, it's always the result of someone not understanding or not wanting to understand the conditions of the people who will be using the spaces.
A lot of low income residents who were promised low income homes, didn't actually get that. They built middle income units that were actually more expensive than what they were paying before. A lot of these people couldn't move into these new buildings and if they could, they had to cram into even smaller spaces, or they were forced to move to public or co op housing. The intent seemed to be, to get of low income housing overall, replacing them with middle income housing.
Urban design that stems from these principles is so dangerous because, "legislations can be changed. Bridges can't be torn down". (Robert Moses) So as architects and designers, we need to contemplate on the policies that make our projects possible.