Urban Design and the Color-Line

“History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history. If we pretend otherwise, we literally are criminals.” – James Baldwin

Designers often operate with either formal or social-impact imperatives, when, in reality, all design has a social impact. It is our responsibility to acknowledge this fact and to decide what kind of impact we are going to have. This research and design seminar acknowledges the role that race and class have played (and will continue to play) in the design and production of urban infrastructure, engaging the problematic either-social-impact-or-design binary in two fundamental ways: (1) Interrogating urban design’s contribution to, and complicity with, structural and infrastructural racism; and, (2) Developing intentionally anti-racist design research methodologies that expose issues of equity, access, social justice, and precarity, relating race to the production of space at the scales of culture, geography, and infrastructure.

The seminar will require reading, writing, discussion, and the creation of graphic materials. It is organized into three sections, with the expectation that each student sustain focus on a single US city for all three parts:

  • Cultures of Racism (Systems): How is racism systemic? Students will conduct independent archival research to identify historical examples of structural racism, juxtaposing those examples with contemporary manifestations.
  • Geographies of Racism (Symptoms): How are the ways that we draw connected to the ways that we plan? Students will identify historical illustrations of socio-spatial delineation and compare them with policy and planning initiatives that followed. They will then juxtapose those illustrations with critical mappings of their own with an emphasis on racial empowerment.
  • Infrastructures of Racism (Sites): What is infrastructural racism and how does it happen?  Students will explore mixed-method design research and representation techniques in order to unpack the making of a physical infrastructure, with an acknowledgment and understanding of the explicit impact of racism on the production of space.