COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

The Ethics of Building Great Communities

Mar 10, 2016
Jan 2, 2018

Calling all architects, planners, designers, developers, city agencies, activists, neighbors, and politicians ...

‍Hong Kong Market | Photo by PPS

All of us are involved in shaping cities, places, and communities. Whether the project we are working on is a private development or a public open space, it is important that we strive to accommodate human activity by developing tangible elements (such as design, function, physical infrastructure, and programming) alongside intangible elements (like identity, community, interaction, and accessibility).

At Project for Public Spaces, our work is rooted in an implicit system of values, and we have developed eleven principles to guide us in this practice. But while these principles tell us what to do, it is also important to consider why we are doing it.

In this effort, we have been especially inspired by the work of Arif Hasan—a long-practicing architect in Karachi, Pakistan (see video below of his presentation at the 2015 Future of Places Conference). Since the early-1980s, Hasan has adhered to a personal and professional oath, in which he vows to protect the environment, support communities, and encourage diversity wherever he works:

“I will not do projects that will irreparably damage the ecology and environment of the area in which they are located; I will not do projects that increase poverty, dislocate people and destroy the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of communities that live in the city; I will not do projects that destroy multi-class public space and violate building by laws and zoning regulations; and I will always object to insensitive projects that do all this, provided I can offer viable alternatives.”

Hasan’s oath responds to a number of urban trends that he deems harmful. Since the practices of architecture, planning, and development can cause irreparable damage, just as they have the power to deeply enhance and improve our lives, the first step in developing a comprehensive code of urban ethics is to explore the potential risks and benefits of our work.

To do this, we have begun to outline a set of guidelines that could become the basis for a new professional ethic:

1. We will actively engage the community—all people and groups whose everyday lives may be benefited by our work—and respect their vision and values. If these visions and values have not yet been articulated, we will encourage and support communities in developing them.

2. We will ensure that any proposed physical and/or design intervention will support the communities affected by the project. At the very least, we will ensure that any physical intervention will not harm the communities affected by the project.

3. We will approach each project as objectively as possible. Before proposing any intervention, we commit to listening and observing in order to ensure that our proposal is sensitive to existing physical, social, and environmental conditions.

4. We will recognize that places and communities are ever-changing. We will be sensitive to these changes and will promote places that can be flexible as needs change.

5. We will aim to spur inclusive economic growth—by enhancing opportunities for employment, business development, or entrepreneurship—that supports all members of society.

6. We will strive to maximize our limited resources. To this end, we will utilize experimentation and lighter, quicker, cheaper interventions whenever possible, in order to better gauge investments of time and money before committing to expensive or long-term projects.

7. We will actively promote inclusion in all of our projects. We know that place is a common denominator for all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or income, and we will not engage in projects that discriminate against any community or individual.

We welcome your comments and contribution to this discussion, as it belongs to all of us. Tell us: Do we need new standards? Are the codes and guidelines put forth by the American Institute of Architects and the American Planning Association enough? Which voices and discussions are not being heard?


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