Editor’s Desk: Ethical Infrastructure

Investigate How Your Work Will Impact the World

President Biden has pledged to invest $2 trillion in America’s infrastructure over the next decade, which undoubtedly elicits excitement from the construction and design industries.  While a post-pandemic pick-me-up is a positive development for several industries, as well as the economy, there are some ethical issues that need to be taken into consideration.

         Sometimes architects and urban planners have concealed problems, rather than solving them.  Gentrification is not the same as improving neighborhoods, although often the intention is the same in the beginning.  By developing neighborhoods, often it can lead to a homogeneity of the community residents, which then forces longtime residents and businesses to move out of the area due to rising rents and home prices.  Architects need to take social histories and tradition into account when stepping into a community’s blueprint.  Phrases like urban renewal, redevelopment, and revitalization should narrow your eyes when evaluating a design project.   

         Architectural West has reported recently on the American Institute for Architect’s Blueprint for Better and 2030 Challenge campaigns, which assert that all new buildings, developments, and major renovations should be carbon-neutral by the year 2030.  These are both fantastic leaps into combatting the climate change crisis that the entire world is facing.  It’s simply a fact that we will continue to need new infrastructure.  But, there are ways to mitigate carbon emissions, whether it be the materials, the process, or the design.  Ideally, architects are involved in each step and can help dictate the best way to reach carbon-neutral targets. 

         “Every building is ultimately a compromise,” said Timothy Hyde, an architectural historian at MIT.  Architects have the power to advocate for change and present solutions for problems that are facing communities.  The question is, however, are architects actively getting involved in shaping the future of infrastructure?  Park(ing) Day is an annual, international event that experiments with the idea of remixing, reclaiming, and reprogramming parking lots into areas for social exchange, recreation, and artistic expression.  This phenomenon invites designers, architects, and citizens to investigate the range of social, cultural, and ecological deficiencies in particular urban settings.

         “Often, there are unintentional consequences that result from improving infrastructure,” said Dr. Shane Epting, an assistant professor of philosophy at Missouri University of Science and Technology.  Improvements to highways or light rail systems are often welcome by the general population, but it can also separate low-income citizens from the city centers.  Issues such as urban mobility, aesthetics, planning, public spaces, and the role of cities in the lives of citizens must all be taken into account when planning new or remodeled designs.  On that note, it is the wealthier communities that have more money to throw at opposing unwanted infrastructure.  Low-income communities are not able to use money to fight against unwanted community changes, and instead must rely on having their voices heard. 

         Keep in mind the negative impacts that come along with new infrastructure, yet continue to design and install functional, artistic, and eco-friendly structures.  Ethical infrastructure starts with you, so use resources wisely, think of safety and well-being, and do your best to help a community and its citizens flourish.

Marcus Dodson

editor & publisher

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