Design Hope volunteers talk about the role architecture and the arts can play in creating cities that have room for everyone.
By Ryan McGreal
Published November 28, 2005
(This is a sidebar to Designing Hope)
Can architecture play a role in making good housing available to everyone?
On a pure design level, certainly architects must deliver excellence in housing design no matter what the market or income level. Most architects, like the other professions, are educated largely at the public's expense and, as a self governing profession through the Architects Act, have an obligation to act in the interest of society as well as their clients and their own.
But the challenge of delivering good housing is not just a design challenge. It's a planning and public policy challenge as well. Without the support of all of the government levels, it's difficult to see affordable housing solutions realised.
Architecture does play a crucial role in good housing. However, it can only do so in concert with a socially progressive and ethically accountable government.
You have to have certain kinds of power to do something like make good housing available, and artists, especially, rarely have that kind of power. Artists and architects can, on the other hand, make the housing that does become available more beautiful and humane.
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Is it possible to organize the built environment of a city in ways that reduce poverty or increase understanding of the causes of poverty? Many organizers of Design Hope belive the answer is yes.
It's definitely possible and necessary to organize the built environment to be more liveable, both in terms of quality of life and sustainability. But the physical structure of a city alone cannot prevent poverty and intolerance. It can only encourage healthy, vibrant multicultural communities with well planned and designed public and private buildings and urban space.
Simply put, neighbourhoods that are built to human scale with attendant green space and accessible social amenities go a long way in fostering a sense of community amongst their inhabitants. Neighbourly interaction can increase tolerance for the diversity found in a community.
However, by its very nature, suburban planning and its dependence on the culture of the automobile engenders a sense of alienation. Perhaps that is why there is increasing attention given to the reclamation and re-organization of the city and its existing infrastructure.
What makes a community, in my view, are the communal spaces, parks and other greenspaces, walking on sidewalks whether it be walking home from school or doing the grocery shopping, independent shops and businesses, and the possibilty for kids to play road hockey. We need to design our cities and towns so that the people in them get to know each other. That way, when someone in your community needs help, you know about and can help in a very personal way.
You could stop ghetto-izing, either by putting all the less advantaged people in one place (subsidized housing), or the more advantaged people in another (the suburbs).
I like the fact that Hamilton's downtown has a number of social services offices located within blocks of trendy restaurants and theatres. I think we need to the priveleged and under-priveleged (or wealthy and less-wealthy) as connected as possible and to me that means not ghetto-izing the city.