It’s difficult for urban designs to cater to everyone all the time. That’s just a fact of finance and physics.
It’s easy to criticize architects, engineers and planners for designing cities in a way that we now know have a detrimental impact on public health, society and the environment. But I’ve learned to be more forgiving of the urban spaces designed far in the past that no longer suit modern needs.
They aren’t necessarily “mistakes”, they are just the unintended consequences of decisions that were made under different circumstance, even if they did have the best information available at the time. Cities were simply designed with different priorities and outcomes in mind, but with limited budgets, resources and (perhaps) foresight.
We need to accept the reality that it’s difficult for urban designs to cater to everyone all the time. That’s just a fact of finance and physics. For example, the co-ed bathrooms or public bathing spaces that some designers have proposed cannot simultaneously cater to individuals who prefer progressive “inclusive” policies and those who adhere to more conservative cultural customs — at least not when physical space is limited and budgets are tight, which is always. These two goals are mutually exclusive.
Attempting to make the built environment entirely “frictionless” is not easy (nor always desirable). Poor design is sometimes just the result of compromise rather than malice.
As urban designers we should still strive to improve the built environment in ways that balance current needs with the ability to adapt to the needs of an unknowable future. But we should also accept the fact that the decisions made today, no matter how well intentioned, will probably have some sort of unintended consequences that will be criticized in the future. Which is why we should be more forgiving for the urban design decisions that were made in the past.
Photo by Catherine Matthys