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Reconciling Design and Social Justice in the Place

I’m not naive to my role straddling the middle of design and social justice in the Place. What is the Place? I define the Place as the entity that comes up for discussion, dissection, or manipulation by policymakers, planners, residents, and developers. In essence, this concept is summed up in one word: Placemaking.

Place is more than the apartment block, the two-story house, the town center, the farm. If we don’t have people who can use the objects of Place, then we are useless. Even worse are people who can build Place but only for profit.

However, place should be where social justice and design meet.

Witness what’s going on here in Greensboro with public art and creative placemaking. The Greensboro Mural Project has revitalized a parking deck…

stairwell mural

…and brought homeless individuals into creating public art.

IRC mural 2

They chose murals because:

  • “[They build] bridges by painting walls.” This theory believes that beautiful, shared space helps breaks down social/cultural/political/etc. barriers for people to connect. Murals help beautify surroundings of any city.

  • Anyone can be involved in the process who wants to be, regardless of talent, skill or experience.

  • The process engages the community and forms a sense of commitment, creating community ownership.

  • Murals have proven to assist in raising property values without gentrification.

  • Quality murals make art available and free for the community.

  • Murals become landmarks in the community.

  • Murals define the cultural identity of a neighborhood or an entire city.

  • Murals attract more artists, visitors and media coverage for the area.

So you say, hey, that’s just murals and of course murals won’t gentrify, they’re just a painted wall. Well, in Cleveland, a developer is starting to put small amounts of money into flipping homes, yet maintaining both a quality standard and a low price point for rentals.

We must take away all the barriers for people to build, yet give barriers that provide for easy access, basic safety, shared prosperity, and easy growth. When our places die, we need to be able to pick up the pieces ASAP and make something new. We need to let whomever wants to come in do so, but it needs to be a WE effort, not a ME or THEY effort. It’s great that some culture has been preserved in some areas, but what about current events and life. Can we make sure people can continue to live in these new “prettified” areas.

Design is not just for the developer. Social justice is not just for the downtrodden. Place needs both to be.

Images Courtesy: Alyzza May

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