Affirmatively Further: Fair Housing After Ferguson

When asked to name the most surprising finding of the Ferguson Commission, which was tasked with examining the underlying social and economic conditions of the uprisings that followed the shooting of Michael Brown, Commission Co-Chair Reverend Starsky Wilson singled out the fact that "so many people lived in enclaves of comfort without understanding that folks just five, ten miles away live in Third World circumstances." Indeed, despite its emphasis on reforming discriminatory police practices, the Ferguson Commission's report—like many academic autopsies of the uprisings—cited segregation and inequality as major factors of Ferguson's unrest. The simple truth is that in St. Louis—as in most metropolitan areas in the US—basic amenities like education, wealth, and wellness are found in some communities and not others, but thanks to exclusionary zoning and other forms of housing discrimination the communities where these amenities are found are often off limits to those who would most benefit from living in them.

Fittingly then, when the Commission released its report, it included recommendations to enforce the Fair Housing Act and its mandate that jurisdictions “affirmatively further” fair housing by overcoming pervasive patterns of segregation and fostering inclusive communities. In recommending this, the Commission was joining a chorus of fair housing advocates and activists who, armed with data demonstrating the deleterious effects of residential segregation, have been working to help break down barriers to high opportunity communities.

This interdisciplinary studio invites students from all departments to think boldly about how architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning and urban design can help affirmatively further fair housing in St. Louis. Working with local fair housing advocacy groups, we will analyze and map housing patterns in the St. Louis region, and produce a playbook of (individual) speculative proposals that are both site specific and scalable.

Following the example of HUD’s successful “Rebuild by Design” competition, which assembled interdisciplinary teams of architects and planners to generate innovative, outside-the-box ideas about one of the most pressing problems of our era (coastal resilience), our hope here is that encouraging GSD students to think openly and creatively about fair housing (certainly, another most pressing problem of our era) will lead to fresh new ideas that will resonate with housing advocates, activists, and the broader public.

A field trip to St. Louis is planned.