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The Ethics of Civil Space: Designing Spaces with Justice in Mind

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This chapter looks at two ethical issues that are important when designing public or semi-public spaces. The first is the importance to all members of the community of having the opportunity to access the goods that are provided within that space. The second is the way in which decisions that affect access to spaces can reflect the relative value placed on different parts of the community. The ways in which the decisions made by professionals involved in the design of spaces raise these issues will be explored, along with the consequences of this for the education of those professionals.

Many of the things that people value require access to public or semipublic spaces. The ease with which individuals can access these spaces, indeed whether or not they can in fact access them, is affected by the decisions made by a range of different professionals. Decisions made by architects, engineers, and planners, for example, can affect the extent to which buildings or other spaces are accessible to, and welcoming of, different members of the community. Similarly, professionals who use those buildings to provide a service to the public (such as those working in medicine, social welfare or the law) can by the way they utilize the space provided affect whether it welcomes or discourages access by potential users from different cultural or social groups. Given their impact on accessibility these decisions raise two major ethical questions. It is these questions and the implications they have for the education of professionals involved in designing public buildings and public spaces that I want to explore in this chapter.

The chapter will proceed in three stages. In the first I draw a number of distinctions between different ways in which professionals’ decisions can affect access. Then in the second I will consider in some detail the ethical issues raised by the fact of these effects. Finally, I will consider briefly how the education of professionals might help to better deal with these ethical issues.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2012

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