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The Ethics of Building Great

By Project for Public Spaces on Mar 11, 2016 | 8 Comments
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 Hasana
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.
Hasans 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 communityall people and groups whose

everyday lives may be benefited by our workand 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
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 growthby 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.