Race and Urbanism – In a Nutshell

During the 1920s, brokers consciously leaned towards integrating a then ‘white neighbourhood’ of Compton. Housing contracts in the US prohibited Blacks, Jews, Asians, and Latinos from buying homes in the white neighbourhoods. 80% of properties in Los Angeles passed restricting contracts in keeping the black families apart from the main housing colonies. 

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A4089- What architects must know about Racist UrbanismRacial Urbanism_©https://chi.streetsblog.org

In the era of President Roosevelt during the 1930s, Home Owners’ Loan Corporation formed. Safety maps were designed to segregate good and bad neighbourhoods. Good Neighbourhoods consisted of majority whites and were considered safe for lending loans and houses.

Bad neighbourhoods consisted of the Chinese, Mexican, Jewish, and Blacks were considered to be bad bets termed as ‘Redling’. 

Adding to this unfair zonal planning, the white homeowners made efforts to scare off the prospective black home buyers by cross burning, bombings, death threats, and promoting vandalism. In today’s times, where laws against racism persist strongly, the trail of Racist Urbanism still follows. 

A recent example in the USA showcases Low-income residents are kept away from reaching Long Island beaches by designing bridges that were too low for buses to drive beneath. Laws formed to segregate communities and prevent them from buying properties in better neighbourhoods still lean towards racism in modern society. These laws still institutionalized racism even after their abolishment.

Urban Issues associated with Racism

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Challenges to access Public Transport_©www.vice.com

1. Access to Public Transport

A significant factor affecting the lower-income and minority neighbourhoods disproportionately is access to public transportation. Arguments pertain to San Francisco criticizing Robert Moses’ design tactics of keeping certain neighbourhoods isolated and segregated.

Overpasses to Long Island were not designed to cater to buses to drive under them, hence separating its beaches from the low-income residents.

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2. Blockbusting

A commonly adopted business practice by the realtors in the US is Blockbusting. In this practice, the building developers convinced its white homeowners to sell their houses at a lower price by implanting fear in the minds of its buyers of the minorities moving in soon. 

The same houses were sold to the black families at a raised price who needed to get out of the overcrowded chaos. Blockbusting unanimously works on selling fear.  

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Racial Steering_©ggwash.org

3. Racial Steering

Practice in the US where agents guide future home buyers away or towards a specific neighbourhood based on race. This process led to the rising of the racial tensions in the East of New York, a low-income residential neighbourhood. It has been recently rezoned as a result of racial displacement increasing the racial agitation in the country. 

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Biased Urban Plans_©www.nytimes.com

4. Biased Urban Plans

Reinforcing inequality, separation, and division of prime cities is a critical issue that is instigated by a spectrum of urban structures and laws. Richard Florida, an urban design professor, says that segregating cities into concentrated advantageous and disadvantageous areas leads to exclusive zoning in the suburbs which eventually limits dense housing development and creates a terrible social impact.

What architects must look out for?

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Free Movement of people irrespective of Race_©www.thenatureofcities.com

1. Building Opportunities for Free Movement

Spaces can become more equitable for their citizens by designing them to be more inviting and open to all. Isis Ferguson, associate director of the city at Place Lab highlights two ways of city functioning. One as magnificent places to experience and two as regressive places as a result of enforced flawed laws and policies. 

The universal design of urban spaces can create harmony and add soul to a place that is capable to host people irrespective of any discrimination, leading to a healthy and progressive society. In the US, public spaces do not always possess freedom of movement. Perception of different skin colors is considered a suspect or an illegitimate. This might lead to repetitive interruption, denied access, and force. 

Constant surveillance can be experienced as a state violence measure by certain individuals. Urban projects need to involve people from different disciples. Inviting people from different backgrounds to the table allows having different viewpoints from the designers. This in turn can benefit in designing urban spaces in a more approachable manner.

Promoting social integration, being inclusive of people’s dignity in the design process will make the urban spaces feel, function, and planned equitably. 

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Redistribution of Resources by Matt Kenyon_©Financial Times

2. Redistribution of Goods

Benjamin Grant, Urban policy director at SPUR, suggested redistribution of goods is important to pull cities out from racial discrimination. Distribution of public resources in cities which are maintained by the elites can allow low-income citizens to sit at the table to use the resources thereby encouraging them to run it alongside the powerful. 

This can be considered as an investment of the rich and powerful in the public resources which can result in the birth of progressive principles. 

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People Centered Approach_©www.salon.com

3. People-Centered Metrics

It is easy to ‘Co-exist’ when there is a mutual feeling of ‘ours’ in the picture. Gehl Institute highlights how civic a public space needs to be. How the government needs to invest resources in understanding potential parameters of urban space to be utilized. Elevating public life can be a tool to address urban challenges of equality, opportunity, and sustainability. 

A thriving urban space needs to be active and diverse by inviting people for civic engagements and everyday routines. Equipping the decision-makers with people-centred methods and involving different groups of people to develop civic institutions in public spaces can lead to valuable public realms.

Rebuilding Policies_©twitter.com

4. Rebuilding Policies

The arena of design must be expanded to counter the challenge of racial discrimination in urban lands. Incorporating legal and economic systems with traditional ideologies of designing buildings can benefit in the form of growth and development. Sharing benefits as a community can stabilize and strengthen public development by design mechanisms like community trusts. 

Designers and architects are visionaries. They have a major role in transforming cities via their voice, skills, and individual approaches. Enormous challenges can be addressed by design but their execution and acceptance depend on how strongly the decision-makers are involved and passionate about benefiting its audience and by extension the target field.


Tina is an Architect and a Curator. She believes in balance and an admirer of the Prarie Style. She likes to brainstorms while ideating and curating. The ability to look beyond a defined use of material and molding and upcycling them is her USP.

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