Spatially equal city design

The readings for this week emphasized the point that disability, along with being a socially and culturally constructed label, is affected by spatial relations. One is only considered disabled with respect to an environment, especially the way in which an environment conceptualizes and distributes space. This is an especially important phenomenon to consider when designing, inclusive cities.

When we talk about creating sustainable cities, persons with disabilities are usually left out of the conversation. We design immaculate, aesthetically pleasing cities that incorporate the newest, fastest technology, all without considering the needs of those with disabilities. Take DC, for example. Comparatively, the new metro system is faster, cleaner, and more dependable than the one before it. The cars are larger in size with more comfortable seating and wider doors. But it is still just as difficult for a person who is using a wheelchair to navigate their way through the throngs of people crowding platforms and refusing to make room for them on the cars. Don’t even get me started on the horrible state of elevators at the metro stations themselves.

The components of a city- transportation, recreation, navigability, cultural life, and the built environment- need to be accessible in order to be sustainable. Until we get this inclusive city thing right, we will just have to keep rebuilding, going back to the drawing board until we stop ignoring the needs of others. This would be simply done by incorporating those we are designing the city for in municipal governments and offices, and by getting feedback from those that have grievances or ideas of how to rework an urban space.

Designing a city to be accessible and inclusive would not only make it more environmentally sustainable, but socially sustainable as well. When we cultivate spaces for those that society has traditionally ignored, we bring them out of the woodwork and into urban cultural life. Cities are places where major life activities are carried out, and they define the circumstances under which people live. Life is a human right, and living life the way you want is a choice that all people are entitled to; everyone has a “right to the city,” so we need to design them that way.


World Bank as a “knowledge bank”

The World Bank has a long and integrated history with development. This institution started out as a lending agency, supporting post-war programs and countries that were able to convince the World Bank that their projects would make some sort of marked improvement on the world. Decisions on what received funding and what did not relied heavily on traditional data, such as economic reports, employment records, and health statistics. Project management was mostly delegated to organizations and institutions outside the World Bank, giving the project management a hands-off feel.

The World Bank has since shifted to assume the role of the dominant provider of development-related information on the global scale. Now relying more on secondary data sources which are the result of lengthy social processes and which are shaped by the biases of agents involved, the World Bank advises other lenders on which projects or aspects of development should be supported. The World Bank now aims to be the “first port of call for development expertise.”

Although some consider it to be helpful to have an authoritative global voice on development, the World Bank as a “knowledge bank” of development expertise is also loaded with Western biases, neoliberal assumptions, and rigid theories. The secondary data that the World Bank is doling out is chock-full of inaccurate reporting, underrepresentation, and misconceptions of qualitative measurements. Although this type of data is important to give a human face to information and to help give focus to development policy, it is critical to recognize the implicit opinions and beliefs that make this data impossible to be objective.

In terms of inclusive sustainable development, the monopoly on knowledge that the World Bank has also has problematic implications. Even if the World Bank supports the CRPD and other policies that advocate for persons with disabilities, the data that they are receiving may place them in the background or, even worse, forget about them entirely. Trying to complete a cross-country analysis with secondary data is also extremely difficult as the World Bank does not have a standardized comparative study of the data that is collected.

The World Bank also tends to focus only on the poorest countries (measured by GDP, GNP, or some other traditional neoliberal measure of development), leaving middle and even high-income countries where the poor, and persons with disabilities, still live at the mercy of their government. This is a major problem in places in the US where public infrastructure is not accessible to people with disabilities and basic human rights like healthcare and internet are not evenly distributed.

If we are truly to regard the World Bank as a trustworthy institution that conducts rigorous development research, we need to look critically at the type of data they are collecting and the biases that are implicit in its construction and development studies.

World Bank’s work on person’s with disabilities

International Development Studies, Sumner and Tribe, chapter 6