June 2, 2020

We can no longer deny our role

Words alone can not capture the amount of shock, anger, and grief we have felt over the past week.

To say we also sit in disbelief would also mean we sit with our privilege. And, we have.

As designers, we always go into projects and communities with a lens to benefit people. Yet, even with the lens, we’ve had blinders. We’ve seen how design can benefit communities, but many times we failed to see how individuals are excluded or adversely impacted. The results of those decades-old blinders are on full display in the events of the past week, in the cities where we work and across our nation.

Our profession is extremely homogenous, and that is part of the problem. Not only are we missing the experiences to understand the needs of our diverse communities, we also are missing the voices to push us to do better. We’re not alone in this, by any means, but it has limited our ability to help the organizations with whom we work see how their visions and goals can be less exclusionary, if not more inclusive.

We are taught that design can be a tool for good, but our history also shows how design can be used as a weapon to marginalize and segregate, from the construction of urban highways and interstates to housing and neighborhoods, which trickle down to schools and businesses. As many have noted, the system wasn’t broken; it was designed to work this way.

Why it takes the murder of someone for us to say enough is beyond comprehension, especially when so many have lost their lives and livelihoods for generations. Enough, though! We’re supposed to be better than this, and we can if we finally face our truths.

Actions to bring equity to our nationThe built environment is a reflection of who we are as people and what we value. We have to do more than just come back from this moment. We have to rise better. If we can do anything in honoring the life of George Floyd, or Breonna Taylor, or Ahmaud Aubrey, or the multitude of others who have died at the hands of an unjust system, we can create a new society that does more than open doors to new opportunities. It actually eliminates the barriers that have prevented everyone from fully participating.

We can’t do this alone. We also can no longer deny our role.

Arundhati Roy said, “Empathy may be the single most important quality that must be nurtured to give peace a fighting chance.” We’re here to fight for peace.

For anyone looking to help in the immediate future, our partners providing community and social services would appreciate the help in all forms:

In Saint Paul: Neighborhood House, CLUES, and Merrick Community Services.

In Minneapolis: The Family Partnership

In Madison: Middleton Outreach Ministry

In Omaha: Food Bank for the Heartland

Thank you to the National Organization of Minority Architects for the graphic. 

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