Racism and Cities with Mabel O. Wilson, Akira Drake Rodriguez, and Bryan Lee

Racism and Cities with Mabel O. Wilson, Akira Drake Rodriguez, and Bryan Lee

The Midnight Charette is an explicit podcast about design, architecture, and the everyday. Hosted by architectural designers David Lee and Marina Bourderonnet, it features a variety of creative professionals in unscripted conversations that allow for thoughtful takes and personal discussions. A wide array of subjects are covered with honesty and humor: some episodes provide useful tips for designers, while others are project reviews, interviews, or explorations of everyday life and design. The Midnight Charette is also available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

This week David and Marina are joined by Mabel O. Wilson, Bryan Lee, and Akira Drake Rodriguez to discuss racism and cities, how the built environment can be an instigator of racism, protests, the tearing down confederate monuments, housing, blackness and whiteness, the key changes needed for a more equitable society, and more. Enjoy!


How the built environment can be an instigator of racism (00:00)

  • As long as we've had city planning, we've had this type of defensive architecture that creates a city within the city. Whether it's public housing, downtown areas, or privatized public spaces of consumption, we certainly have built cities in a way where some areas are racialized in a positive light and some areas are racialized in a negative light, and that's certainly reflected in the built environment. - Akira Drake Rodriguez (00:27)

Akira, Mabel, and Bryan discuss how the current movement and call for racial equality feels different that previous times (04:20)

  • I'm a child of the sixties. So over the arc of my life, I really thought we were going to have a radically different world; a peaceful one. Women would have rights, racism would end, queer rights, LGBTQ… I really just thought we were all on board for a more equitable society and the same reinscriptions of power relations had just took hold and other formations of domination. So it is disheartening that this is where we ended up but what I believe is perhaps radically different. I think people have had enough. In the last 50 years we had integration, we had affirmative action, we had multiculturalism, inclusion, and diversity, and that did not solve a thing. Poverty is back to where it was, cities are segregated, schools are segregated. There's something profoundly, not right. - Mabel O Wilson (06:32)

Understanding racism through “Blackness” and “Whiteness” and Redline Maps. (11:19)

  • The singularity that whiteness brings to not just our policies, procedures, our pedagogy, but to our physical spaces. Our entire relationship to zoning is centered on whiteness: individualizing plots of land that we can all all have as the Kings and Queens of our domain. But fundamentally, specifically, communities of color often operate in commune, right? We operate in commune. So when we talk about spaces that define whiteness of blackness or why some a system is preferring whiteness or blackness, we have to recognize the cultural ingrained condition of a people that has been particularly defined by those two ends of the spectrum. - Bryan Lee (17:38)
  • It's a really amazing lesson to have your students look at red line maps and see who gets ‘Grade A’ and who ends up in ‘Grade D’. Literally it will say on those maps, “Chinese”, “Mexican”, “Negro” bodies [and then] it starts to degrade literally to Grade C and then Grade D, which is the redlined area. So it literally gets baked into the city, which is why community powers were hit hard by the pandemic, by COVID-19. The redline maps completely aligned in New York city with areas of COVID hotpsots. - Mabel O Wilson (18:48)

The boundaries of the practice of Architecture and using policy to create social change (20:11)

  • It is absolutely critical that we be involved in the politics of it because fundamentally you very supremacy through each layer of these elements [pedagogy, policies, procedures, practice projects, and people]. And if you're not attuned to it, it can drown you in the bureaucracy of white supremacy, the mundane conditions of white supremacy. And then just kind of set it as the standard way in which the world works. So we have to be critically attuned to not just how we're teaching people, but the policies we lay out and the way that those policies are being implemented. - Bryan Lee (22:52)

Violence and Peaceful Protesting (23:32)

Defunding the Police (31:27)

  • All of the data shows that police bring more harm to certain communities than help, that there are other ways to bring about healing and harm reduction and overall growth of humans and neighborhoods and communities beyond the institution known as the police and that extends to prisons. This idea of public safety is rooted, again, in this protection of property, this protection of property rights, this protection of white property rights often at the expense of black lives. The police as an institution have decimated black, brown, and indigenous communities over space and time. So no, I don't think that they should be funded. - Akira Drake Rodriguez (31:35)

Tearing down and replacing Confederate monuments (35:29)

  • I think it's critical to accurately understand the narratives of our past and their implications and the present. When we think about Confederate monuments, we think about their purpose as commemoration, not a memorial. We think about them as odes to white supremacy. And we have to remember that again, the confederacy lasted for five years. It was a five year run. I was in college longer than the Confederacy was literally around. So why are we lionizing villains in our space and allowing that narrative, this lost cause, to persist so thoroughly in our world? - Bryan Lee (35:57)

The power and danger of slogans and hashtags (42:04)

Having more minorities in influential positions (46:41)

Is the younger generation more socially conscious? (49:50)

The key changes to have a more just society and city (52:56)

  • As a country, we have the resources we have the wealth. We just not have the will to actually make that happen. That's really the big stumbling block. We could have a lot of things, but the will the ability to see us as equals isn't there, the ability to value all lives isn't there, the will to ensure fresh water, fresh air, decent education, housing—the good life that the constitution is supposed to guarantee—isn’t there for everyone. It's always been an unequal society, and that has to be understood and that also has to be corrected. I think we have to learn how to be better humans together… not Americans, but just humans. - Mabel O Wilson (56:21)

About this author
Cite: The Second Studio Podcast. "Racism and Cities with Mabel O. Wilson, Akira Drake Rodriguez, and Bryan Lee" 27 Jun 2020. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/942251/racism-and-cities-with-mabel-o-wilson-akira-drake-rodriguez-and-bryan-lee> ISSN 0719-8884

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