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The Evil Genius Ways The Wealthy, Cities, And Businesses Try To Control Urban Spaces

A new book, The Arsenal of Exclusion and Inclusion, examines the fascinating techniques used to keep people out–and bring people in–to different areas of our cities.

When David Geffen built an oceanfront compound on Malibu’s Pacific Coast Highway–a property that sold this year for $85 million–he added fake garage doors to one wall to keep beachgoers from parking in front. Like other fake “no parking” and “private property” signs installed by nearby millionaires and billionaires, it was a move to keep visitors away from the public beach behind his house.

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The “garage” is one entry in a new book called The Arsenal of Exclusion and Inclusion, which details more than 100 ways that cities and individuals make decisions that shape who gets to be where–from zoning in Baltimore that restricted neighborhoods by race to “poor doors” in apartment buildings that force residents of affordable units to enter from the back.

The Arsenal of Exclusion and Inclusion is available now. [Illustration: Lesser Gonzalez]
While the book makes good reading for anyone, it’s also meant to be a practical tool. “By assembling best (and worst) accessibility practices, we hope that this book can be used as a sort of tool kit for building more accessible cities and suburbs,” says Daniel D’Oca, a principal and cofounder at Interboro, a New York City-based design and planning office. D’Oca, along with the firm’s other cofounders, Tobias Armborst and Georgeen Theodore, and more than 50 other contributors, compiled the book based on eight years of research.

The encyclopedia-like entries can be browsed randomly, but the book also suggests a few “tours.” If you’re interested in understanding why cities are still segregated 50 years after the Fair Housing Act passed, for example, you can read about older practices like racial zoning and freeways that cut off black neighborhoods, along with a list of newer practices, such as a law passed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina that restricted rentals in a predominately white neighborhood to blood relatives.

“These things are hiding in plain sight, and are all the more sinister for their banality.” [Photo: Tim Davis]
Other “weapons” listed in the book are more subtle. Armrests on park benches are often in place not for comfort, but to ensure that homeless people can’t lie down. Fake parks have been used to keep sex offenders away. (In California, where state law prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of parks or schools, L.A. has built tiny parks specifically to force offenders out of some neighborhoods.) Some businesses use speakers blasting classical music to deter skateboarders. In the mostly white community of Springfield, New Jersey, a basketball court was dismantled and replaced by a street hockey rink to make the park less attractive to black visitors.

“This kind of tactical reactionism is interesting to us,” says D’Oca. “These things are hiding in plain sight, and are all the more sinister for their banality.”

Many older physical barriers are still in place today, like Detroit’s “Birwood Wall,” built in the 1940s when a developer erected a white subdivision next to a black neighborhood; the Federal Housing Authority refused to insure mortgages in the new subdivision without a wall. Now, though neighborhoods on both sides of the wall are black, it still stands. “We’re very interested in these artifacts of exclusion: these things that are out there in the built environment that you can read as a sort of Rosetta stone,” says Armborst.

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“By assembling best (and worst) accessibility practices, we hope that this book can be used as a sort of tool kit for building more accessible cities and suburbs.” [Photo: Tim Davis]
The book is also filled with examples of inclusive design. Accessory dwelling units (cottages in backyards), for example, can make neighborhoods more economically diverse. Lactation rooms make offices welcoming to new mothers. Bike lanes, obviously, make streets more accessible for people on bikes. Some cities–such as Schenectady, New York–have actively recruited immigrants to help boost declining populations.

The designers at Interboro, who all teach design students, say that they see the field changing to prioritize inclusion. “[Students] increasingly want to engage, and see how design can help,” says D’Oca, who teaches at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “Our students are self-selecting, of course, but we would like to think that the best and brightest are increasingly interested in public service, and want to use their talent to help plan and build more equitable, more sustainable cities. Where I teach, students organized a conference called Black in Design, which looks at how design can help dismantle institutional barriers to opportunity. This is hugely inspiring. We’re not sure this would have been organized 10 years ago.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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