The Kids Are Alright

When was the last time you walked away from a project?

If you’ve been near a TV this week you know that Charlotte, NC was in the news. And not the good kind of news. In the process of serving a warrant, police shot and killed a father of seven after mistaking him for the actual person of interest.

Reasons aside, anger boiled over and windows are broken, people are hurt and worse.

Charlotte isn’t a big city. I know this neighborhood apartment complex because we used to live next door. The neighborhood is near UNCC where I studied architecture. A very short walk from where my family used to live and where my son Harrison is attending university.

From an architectural standpoint this apartment complex is not in a bad location. The shooting happened in an “affordable income community” where many are financially stressed.

As architects, it seems we’re concentrating misery when people that require “affordable” housing (a more polite way of saying “low income”) are isolated, separated and segregated. Designing “one size fits all” is efficient and predictable from a building, cost and operations standpoint. But what are the long term social disadvantages?

How can we expect children to break free from a cycle of poverty and social isolation? How can we reasonably expect children to excel academically if they don’t even feel safe?

I’m asking questions and I don’t have all the answers. But I do know that what we’re doing isn’t working. Concentrating wealth in one community while isolating economic disparity in another seems like the worst of both worlds. And I’m starting to believe that architects are complicit in the long term challenges when we solve functional and technical challenges without confronting the long term social realities.

Where does RTC fit into this? I think this year’s keynote by Ashraf Habibullah went a long way to bridge the gap between technology and humanity. Solving the immediate technical challenge isn’t enough. We need to think more than one chess move ahead. As Ashraf reminded us , “You are created to make the life of another human being better.”

So the next time a client asks you to help design a “low income community” why not ask the project team, “Would you want to live there? Would you want your children to live there? Would you want your friends to live there?”

If the team can’t answer “yes” with confidence maybe it’s time to push away from the table. Let’s start trying to find a better way.

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