National Building Museum Addresses Social Inequity

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The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., is the nation’s premier museum dedicated to the history and advancement of the “built world,” the places that we construct to live, work, play, worship, and learn. In recent years, the Museum has produced exhibitions and programs on issues of social equity that are impacted by the built world. The ways we choose to design and construct our world contribute to disparities—but, more important, they can, should, and do mitigate them. During the pandemic, the Museum instituted a new program series to learn from architects, landscape architects, planners, interior designers, and other design and design-adjacent professionals to reflect on current events, the history that brought us here, and consider concrete actions that these professions and others are taking to promote justice through the built environment.

Typically, these professionals do not perceive themselves to be “public administrators,” and yet they interact every day with public institutions, the communities in which they design and place buildings and landscapes—structures and spaces with purpose and visibility. They must deal with building and planning codes that help keep our communities safe and should consider the impact of any designed element on surrounding environments. But developers are not always attuned to the neighborhoods where they operate; their objective is profit. So how can the designers and builders be persuaded to take social equity into account? The Museum’s staff has been on the lookout for design firms and public institutions that are approaching their work with social justice in mind. To date, they have found a number of them, and enabled free online access to these presentations to spread the word.

Below are brief descriptions of the five presentations/discussions currently available to anyone, including public administrators, who have responsibility for addressing and mitigating social inequities—which is all of us—in all its many forms. We hope you will review these thought-provoking presentations, contact the presenters where appropriate, learn from them, and keep spreading the word that there are ideas and resources in unlikely places. For access to these presentations, go to www.nbm.org/learn/onlineprograms, then scroll down to “Equity in the Built Environment.” 

 

Presentations Available on the National Building Museum Website
The Rosenwald Schools / MAY 11, 2021

Learn about the Rosenwald Schools, the result of a collaboration between Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald that created nearly 5,000, state-of-the-art schools for African American children throughout the south in the early 20th century.

Restorative Justice / APRIL 29, 2021

Counter the traditional adversarial and punitive architecture of justice by creating spaces and buildings for restorative justice, rehabilitation, and community building, and re-entry housing for people coming out of incarceration.

Improving Racial Equity Through Greener Design /  MARCH 9, 2021

Understand how architects across the U.S. are working to improve the environmental and social sustainability of communities by protecting neighborhoods from gentrification, installing parks and public art exhibits in urban centers, and creating state-of-the-art libraries in financially challenged neighborhoods. 

National Park Service / JANUARY 26, 2021

Learn how the National Park Service is telling the whole story of America’s history through inclusive interpretation.

Mardi Gras Indian Cultural Campus / OCTOBER 14, 2020

Hear how the Mardi Gras Indian Cultural Campus is helping to reverse the negative impacts of economic disinvestment, political neglect, and natural disasters that have eroded community pride and participation in New Orleans’ Central City, a once-thriving hub of African American civic and commercial life. 

Article submitted by NCAC Member: Gene Bacher

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