Ishita Gaur describes how urban design can facilitate social services and improve equity in cities. “There are great inequalities in the distribution of health care, housing assistance, accessibility to food and educational opportunities, among others. While access to this social infrastructure is in a largely politically determined, some spatial challenges exacerbate the situation, but they need not.
According to Gaur, “physical and psychological barriers play an essential role in terms of access to vital social services for all. There is a stigma attached to social services, which often prevents residents from enjoying the benefits of these amenities. Using New York City as an example, Gaur says “the solution lies in creating a network of spaces that New Yorkers can approach for easy, non-judgmental access to the social services they need.” .
The city should seize this opportunity not only to expand access to social amenities, but also to ensure that they are universally inclusive. Designing welcoming spaces for people of all income levels, employment statuses, age groups and gender identities will be key to their success.
Gaur notes that “inserting social services and amenities into already welcoming and non-discriminatory spaces can significantly reduce the perceived barriers a person might have to overcome in seeking help. New services located outside of these facilities can create a buffer space that receives people while providing some privacy and anonymity to the person seeking help. For many people, “even simple design decisions, such as the presence of a reception or its location, can dramatically change an individual’s experience.”
As Gaur concludes, creating more inclusive and welcoming public spaces improves the health of cities as a whole. “Creating a healthier city for those who need it most leads to a healthier city for all.”