UT Architecture Fellowship Explores Race in Spaces: Environmental Psychologist Todd Brown to Facilitate Design for Inclusion Workshops – News
Todd Brown (Photo by Jana Birchum)
In the fall of last year, the daily meme circulating on Twitter was “gentrification police“, the universally recognizable sans serif of house numbers in an evolving neighborhood. This immediate association evoked from such a simple visual cue – rich white newcomers in pristine Range Rovers – is called a” socio-spatial fantasy “, and it is at the center of the environmental psychologist Todd Brown, the sixth recipient of UT-Austin School of Architecture‘s Race and gender scholarship in the built environment.
As part of the scholarship, Brown, who holds degrees in architecture and public health, will teach a series of workshops for landscape architects, interior designers, city planners, and more.Designing for inclusion and socioracial sustainability“this semester, during which he will apply a social and environmental justice perspective to existing projects. The scholarship was created in the fall of 2016, with the aim of” supporting the development of future researchers whose work focuses on relationships and the intersections of race, gender and the built environment “- intersections that are central to Brown’s interdisciplinary approach.
Environmental psychology, he explains, explores the psychosocial relationship between people and the environment, with the environment being a tangible space – a building, a neighborhood, or a park – or even something as amorphous as social media. He hopes to teach aspiring architects new approaches to development that foster a sense of inclusion. “Instead of gentrification, it is community improvement that gives residents some type of property in the redevelopment process.”
Brown’s thesis at the New York City University Graduate Center, in which he interviewed Harlem residents about their relationship to the neighborhood, found that small environmental clues – the size of the windows in a brownstone, or whether the trash is stowed away or scattered – invoke powerful hypotheses about race, the sex, health and politics of a community. In some of his interviews, older residents recalled how different access to public parks was 20 to 30 years ago. “They said to me, ‘This door was open 24 hours a day, but then they welded it. “For them it was a sign of gentrification, because now, like access to [the park] is restricted, yes it is still a public park, but it has become privatized to some extent. … For the safety of the new residents, they try to remove these “unwanted elements”. “
Architects can play a role in strengthening or mitigating this feeling of exclusion. When designing affordable housing, for example, balconies in market-rate units and not in affordable units may give residents the impression that they “don’t have a sense of ownership or accessibility with. where they live, “said Brown,” just by access to individual green space or lack thereof. ” Conversely, in neighborhoods that are gentrifying, “luxury buildings become like fortified fortresses with security features, and the building clearly cries out:” It’s not for the people of this neighborhood. ” This stuff can signal negatively to people in the community. “
Brown’s goal is to design for inclusion, because “historically we have always been kind of trained to view the user of architecture as a valid, privileged white man. A 60-year-old black woman to low income can fit into a space and perceive it much differently. ” He recognizes that architects do not control rents and that there are other exclusionary systems. “But I think the architect’s job is to stand up for the community in which he designs.… It’s a good step in the right direction when you start to consider a diversity of different users and different experiences. is what I hope to bring to the table. “