Can Streets Discriminate?

Sunday, January 8, 2023
First Aired: 
Sunday, August 9, 2020

What Is It

City streets play an important role in our everyday lives. We commute to work, walk our dogs, meet our friends, and stage protests on city streets. In theory, streets are open for anyone to physically access. But do streets, by their design, actually discriminate against certain people? If so, who has less access to city streets? Is the design of our cities a political matter? Can we even talk about cities as being just or unjust by design? Or are they simply inconvenient, or poorly designed, for some? Josh and Ray hit the streets with Shane Epting, Co-Director of the Philosophy of the City research group at the Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Listening Notes

  • Roving Philosophical Report: Holly J. McDede investigates competing visions for public space at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California. A longer version of this story, co-reported and co-produced by Julia Llinas Goodman, originally aired on KALW’s Crosscurrents.



Josh Landy  
Why is there so much terrible urban design out there?

Ray Briggs  
How can we make our streets more welcoming to everyone?

Josh Landy  
is the perfect city just a mirage?

Comments (4)

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Monday, August 10, 2020 -- 6:26 AM

We are not going to design

We are not going to design our way out of discrimination, especially in a conversation and blog post picture that seems to imply good design of a park bench is to serve as a bed for the homeless. This is the same mistaken premise that foists social work onto our police, and I might add anarchists at our police stations.

Social injustice needs fundamental justice that respects human rights, not design criteria. Great design helps, but we're polishing turds here not rewriting the constitution. Turd polishing has ever, will ever, be the duty of design.

Pig lipstick.

Daniel's picture


Friday, November 18, 2022 -- 3:24 PM

On the condition that it be

On the condition that it be of some benefit to the pig. How that benefit is determined informs any claimed legitimacy of its application. Take the argument you make in the first paragraph. Assuming one can sleep on a park bench and treating police as though they were babysitters for the maladjusted are brought under the category of flawed assumptions, since a bench is designed to sit on and police to treat criminal activity. Presuming use contrary to design is unproductive, and therefore flawed. Your second premise however I take to be decisive: If a flawed expectation is not fulfilled, what is the response in those who possess it? The answer you provide is clear: Rather than adjusting their expectations to the constraints of design, they instead dismantle the product, to wit, push over park benches, or, in the example given, attack police stations. And this indicates that the assumptions are not only flawed in the reasoning of the individual, but also toxic in the context of her or his community. How then does a mere epistemic oversight become a degradation of society? Your analysis here is quite good in my view, but needs elaboration. What's the importance, for example, of artificial fabrication here? Could an object of natural production, say a tree, be similarly misinterpreted in its design?

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, November 18, 2022 -- 6:17 AM

I do not know if streets

I do not know if streets discriminate, unless one specifies ghetto streets. In that case, yes, probably so, and, depending on who you are and who you know, you probably don't want to test your welcome by going there. There is a different take on this, an advertisement of certain benefits that may be available, depending on one's residential zip code. I do not know if this is a scam, but it clearly aimed towards elder people, race and sex notwithstanding. The ad constantly bombards network television.
A fine print disclaimer says it is not connected with any government agency or program (ding!)
I have no interest in this come-on, legitimate or not. My benefits are fine, thanks. (Ding!)

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Daniel's picture


Sunday, January 22, 2023 -- 5:29 PM

So tell me if I'm correct, if

So tell me if I'm correct, if in your generosity of spirit you might deign to enrich my own in its impoverishment, if the interpretation is made that you are making an analogy here: As a ghetto is to a visitor, the Medicare Advantage program is to the elderly. Apparently there's a lot of different versions of the latter, which constitute ways to get people off Medicare, a government program, and onto a private, for profit system. It's misleading because it leads one to suppose that it's somehow connected with the distributive social program, by using the name and claiming there's additional parts to it that only the private companies can provide. My problem is how it connects back to the first part of the analogy. Are you saying that visitors to the neighborhoods in question would be approached with offers having to do with things outside of it? Or do you mean to suggest that what is offered to the visitor would be things within the neighborhood which are purported to be better versions of what is already possessed in their own? Certainly it's the case that one who wants to keep their government program would not be welcomed by those who want to get rid of it, but it remains unclear about how a welcome-test in a foreign neighborhood equates to one in the context of a private system hostile to a public one.

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