April 09, 2021

Crown Fountain, Millennium Park, Chicago. Credit: Maremagnum / Getty Images

Last year, many American cities were shut down for long periods during the coronavirus pandemic. They were also the backdrop for widespread demonstrations against racial injustice, in response to the death of George Floyd. As the Biden administration now plots out a road to recovery, with a massive infrastructure plan, Toni Griffin’s work designing cities and spaces focused on equity and inclusion could be more relevant than ever.  

Griffin, the founder of Urban American City, professor in Practice of Urban Planning and the director of the Just City Lab at Harvard Graduate School of Design, explains the long and painful legacy of discrimination in urban planning and architecture in America and what it will take to overcome it.

Three Takeaways:

  • Designers and urban planners who want to revitalize American cities, need to understand the ways in which urban areas have been shaped by policies of segregation, dating back to the early decades of the 20th century, says Griffin. There were practices designed to intentionally “extract, exclude, discriminate and devalue spaces where Black people” lived, including racially restrictive covenantsredlining and blockbusting
  • Design can be a tool to repair injustice. And part of that process, which began with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is dismantling policies and practices that have marginalized African Americans and led to disinvestment in Black neighborhoods, according to Griffin. She says some “urban renewal” projects have perpetuated cycles of poverty and violence, and calls this “developmental mutilation.” 
  • One of Griffin’s favorite public spaces is Crown Fountain in Millennium Park, downtown Chicago. Designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, Griffin says the fountain brings people together in a way that doesn’t typically happen in Chicago, which she describes as a deeply segregated city. Two large digital towers display images of the faces of everyday Chicagoans, while, during warmer months of the year, children from all over the city play together in a shallow reflecting pool at the fountain.

More Reading:

cities, Justice, Racism, urban planning, Toni Griffin, equity

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