Todd Brown (Photo by Jana Birchum)
Sometime in the fall of last year, the meme of the day was on Twitter “Gentrification font“, The universally recognizable sans serif house number in a changing neighborhood. That immediate association evoked by such a simple visual cue – wealthy white newcomers in immaculate Range Rovers – is referred to as the “socio-spatial imaginary” and is at the heart of the environmental psychologist Todd Brown, the sixth recipient of UT-Austin School of Architecture‘S Race and Gender in the Built Environment Fellowship.
As part of the scholarship, Brown, who has both degrees in architecture and public health, will teach a series of workshops for landscape designers, interior designers, urban planners, and more.Design for inclusion and social sustainability“in this semester, in which he will shed light on existing projects with social and ecological justice. The scholarship was established in autumn 2016 with the aim of” supporting the development of future scientists whose work focuses on the relationships and intersections between race, gender , and the built Environment “- intersections that are the focus of Brown’s interdisciplinary approach.
Environmental psychology, he explains, explores the psychosocial relationship between people and the environment, where the environment is a tangible space – a building, a neighborhood, or a park – or even something as amorphous as social media. He hopes to teach budding architects new approaches to development that encourage a sense of inclusion. “Instead of gentrification, it is the improvement of the community that gives residents a kind of ownership in the redevelopment process.”
Brown’s dissertation at the City University of New York Graduate Center, in which he interviewed Harlem residents about their relationship with the neighborhood, found that small environmental features – the size of the windows in a brownstone or whether the trash is cleared or scattered – make strong assumptions about race, gender, health, and life the politics of a community. In some of his interviews, elderly residents recalled that access to public parks was different 20-30 years ago. “They told me, ‘That gate used to be open 24 hours a day, but then they welded it shut.’ For them it was a sign of gentrification, for now, as access to [the park] being restricted, yes it is still a public park but it has been partially privatized. … For the safety of the newer residents, they try to remove these ‘unwanted elements’. “
Architects can help to reinforce or alleviate this feeling of exclusion. For example, when designing affordable housing, balconies in the off-the-shelf units rather than affordable units can make residents feel like they “have no sense of ownership or accessibility with the place they live,” Brown said. Simply through access to, or lack of, individual green spaces. “Conversely, in gentrification areas,” luxury buildings become walled fortresses with security, and the building clearly screams: ‘This is not for the people in this area’. ” Such things can send a negative signal to people in the community. “
Brown’s goal is to focus on inclusion, because “historically we have always been trained to view the architectural user as the white, healthy, privileged man of space and perceive it in a completely different way.” He admits that architects do not rent control and other exclusionary systems are at play. “But I think the architect’s job is to be an advocate for the community he is designing in. … It is a good step in the right direction when you start out one To take into account diversity of users and different experiences which I will hopefully bring with me. “