How Infrastructure Communicates Values

The presence and quality of sidewalks, curb cuts, and other basic elements of infrastructure can speak to much more than just economic decisions.

1 minute read

February 23, 2024, 8:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Close-up of bottom half of stroller being pushed onto sidewalk with no curb cut by person in jeans and brown shoes.

RealPeopleStudio / Adobe Stock

In a piece published on Strong Towns, Tiffany Owens Reed lyrically describes another way of looking at cities and infrastructure: as symbols.

Consider, for example, the extremely wide lanes we have in many neighborhoods here in Waco. At first glance, this might just be a straightforward design issue: such wide lanes are extremely likely to induce speeding, making what should be a public space too dangerous for other people, especially children, and turning it into a domain for cars and their drivers. This straightforward analysis is important and valuable, but what happens if we think about it symbolically? Then the overly wide residential street becomes a symbol of our culture’s unexamined commitment to cars and a conversation starter about the cost of this commitment, specifically the way they are turning our neighborhoods into traffic corridors, not communities.

For Reed, infrastructure can communicate a community’s values and priorities. What does a lack of sidewalks say about who is welcome in a neighborhood? “Or consider the fact that there’s no coffee shop I can walk to and meet up with friends. Technically, this is a zoning issue; nothing more to it. But what do those zoning rules symbolize? What do they tell us about the patterns of life we believe belong in a neighborhood? What does they communicate about what we value?”

Tuesday, February 20, 2024 in Strong Towns

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