Repel or Repair: How Urban Design Plays a Part in Culture Wars

Dr. Ralf Brand and Dr. Sara Fregonese have studied how culturally ignorant design has intensified violence in areas of religious and ethnic division, while more sensitive plans have peacefully brought people from different backgrounds together.
June 14, 2012, 5am PDT | Akemi Leung
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In order to understand the impact of physical spaces on social conflicts, both negatively and positively, Brand and Fregonese, from the University of Manchester, have focused their research on cities with histories of religious or political violence: Belfast, Beirut, Berlin, and Amsterdam, writes Sarah Goodyear.

"What [Brand and Fregonese] documented, after hundreds of interviews and weeks of observation, is that urban design can raise tensions in cities where ethnic or religious conflicts are endemic. At the same time, design that is sensitive to local concerns and conditions can have a healing effect."

Brand cites a pedestrian bridge built between Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast that was designed in "complete ignorance of the local situation," and became "a flashpoint for sectarian violence," as an example of negligent urban design. On the other hand, he finds that a mall in Beirut that was designed with extensive Christian and Muslim input is an example of how, "when planners and citizens work together, good urban design can help depolarize communities and even potentially prevent radicalization."

Thanks to Akemi Leung

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Published on Tuesday, June 12, 2012 in The Atlantic Cities
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