24 Feb

URBAN BARRIERS  Juan M. Berdeja Maldonado (Bon Squid) in collaboration with Mauricio Sosa, Lourdes González, and Fernanda Orozco

Who has not perceived the hostility represented by certain areas of their city? Those spaces that do not allow us to cross them in a simple way, those difficult to access, that do not have the right infrastructure for all types of transit for all of us who use these spaces.

Urban barriers, such as highways and freeways, the illegibility of the city's transport system, the absence of lighting services, among many others, makes it impossible to develop communication between different public space users, population sectors, areas of the city, etc., regarding daily transfers including social, commercial, and environmental relations, among many. This is due to certain elements that do not allow us to travel safely, comfortably, or freely within the territory. The formation of this situation creates what has been called URBAN EDGE by Kevin Lynch in his book "Image of the City", there are also intangible barriers such as social and cultural issues, as well as political beliefs that often accompany these physical barriers and their presence. 

According to Lynch: "An urban edge is a linear element that is perceived as a barrier to the city. These edges are not only good for demarcating parts of a territory, but they limit people's mobility. These are lines such as walls, fences, railway tracks, development boundaries, ravines, rivers, coasts, political borders..." (Lynch, 1959). Urban barriers limit the actions a person can take within the territory due to the segregation of certain sectors, uncommunicated with each other. This problem is reflected in aspects such as mobility, as well as other social, cultural, economic, and environmental factors.

There are natural, urban, architectural and transportation physical barriers, such as rivers, ravine, roads of controlled access, buildings without an inclusive design and the case of transportation units those with steps, which hinder people’s mobility. First within the territory, second in public spaces, third within the buildings and fourth within the mobility system of the city. If we think about the different barriers people have identified in the city which they face in their day-to-day life, their transformation in relation to the growth of childhood to adulthood or even aging, to physical situations such as tiredness, physical injuries or simply by the deterioration of materials where it lacks maintenance by the authorities in charge. 

In most of our cities there are surrounding roads known as freeways, which were planned to give fluidity to vehicular traffic, however, they were implemented without taking into account the rest of the road participants like: pedestrians, public transportation users, cyclists, and even users on horseback or accompanied by livestock in rural areas which are restricted in their passage due to the physical characteristics of the site that were not include in the infrastructure design suitable for the transit of all users, as well as on biodiversity and water issues.  The same is true of road distributors built to reduce congestion levels at the expense of other users. Both road and recreational axes create spaces that, in addition to hindering access, bring environmental, social and road safety problems.

Some of the characteristics that lack certain spaces may be the absence of quality and safe pedestrian spaces, the lack of cycling infrastructure, the current operation of the collective public transport system from the man-truck scheme, the transport stops, the type of units that provide the service, among many other things are problems that we face on a daily basis and that limit the mobility of people in the city , becoming daily barriers that we normalize and are not visualized as deficiencies that should be being addressed by the administrations in turn. 

Let's focus our vision on the lack of sidewalks as a barrier.

In the specific case of the banquettes Anastasia Loukaitou-Queen  Ehrenfeucht  presents a definition in the book of Where  the  sidewalks  stars: "the sidewalks are simple, they are standardized pieces of gray concrete that are placed between the traffic lanes and the buildings, its common appearance denies its importance and history as unique but integral parts of urban life and the streets, sidewalks are a commercial ground for merchants and sellers, a place of leisure for passers-by, a refuge for the homeless, a place for the daily coexistence of people, a space for the debate and protest of political activists, an urban forest for environmentalists. The sidewalks enclose several social, economic and political uses that have been an integral part of a challenged democracy." (Loukaitou Anastasia, 2011) 

When considering the different activities that a sidewalk generates in the environment where it is located, it has a direct impact on the various types of activities that develop within them, causing social, economic, environmental, political, health, and public safety problems among others, thus generating an impact on the city budgets to address all these deficiencies.

To delve deeper into this, let us begin to analyze the design that lacks universal accessibility criteria, which does not include within the space, sectors with disabilities and those vulnerable groups, who live the design of cities under an ergonomics that has not taken them into account and that makes it impossible in many cases that they can move freely and independently. 

In the book DisCapacitados written by Marta Allué, an anecdote in accompaniment to a person with motor disabilities in Catalonia, they show the effects of these barriers on the daily life of a person with disabilities and how they are generating social segregation to certain population sectors. In the pages of this book, it narrates the journeys that Francis has to pass to move thinking that a barrier, is nothing more than "the selfishness of the people" and that is due to all the urban physical barriers found in his daily transfers, such as the poorly designed ramps, the low accessibility that shops have and unconsciousness of other people who seem not to understand the signs (Marta, 2003)and infrastructure.

Let's look at the barriers from another edge and think about the 68 indigenous languages that exist in Mexico. How much information do we find in the spaces that can help anyone understand the city who speak a language other than Spanish?  It must be admitted that we have a lot of information, but it is directed to tourists. We have almost no information regarding indigenous population. Solutions have been sought about this problem, thus the reason why the iconography indicated by public transportation stations in some cities was developed. 

The same case is suffered by people who have language problems, such as dyslexia, how many barriers they face during the day-to-day life, visually impaired people, mental illness, and countless different sectors.

Have you ever wondered, what is the discourse that your city has? What information is your city communicating? Which is the language it uses. Who can understand this discourse?

 I would like to take what Saskia Sassen wrote in an essay entitled "Speak City", in which he says that the spoken language of the city, is an urban capacity: "the ability to alter, to shape, to provoke, to invite, all following the logic that seeks to improve and protect the complexity and the city’s condition of always being incomplete". (Saskia, 2019) Therefore, the existence of these barriers that generate inequality prevents the city from speaking and does not allow it to generate a discourse that encompasses all the people who live in that city. This is how barriers do not allow our cities to flow and generate collective processes that help give them voice and visualize sectors that lack power within the society in which we live. 

Our city's discourse must be received by everybody who live day by day in its spaces, it is a message that must be clear and concise, it must be inclusive, it must break the barriers of communication so that in this way we can understand what the city tells us and become part of that discourse.

It is important to recognize these barriers to promote as many solutions as possible, generating more friendly cities to their inhabitants and the environment, thinking about the population diversity that reside in them, obtaining spaces where flora, fauna, water and other inhabitants can live together in harmony and without problems to fulfill their function in the system that we all know as a city. 

There are natural barriers that in some places have been transformed into urban barriers, and these do not disappear, they remain in the same place but unfortunately have become piped rivers, ravine that have been filled with waste, lakes that have been drained, among other cases that have ceased to be what they used to. Very often new settlements arrive in those areas and face different risks, increasing levels of inequality and generating urban growth that jeopardizes the integrity of people and the environment. 

We must consider all types of barriers that exist when designing new planning tools and urbanization processes to reduce social segregation rates, improve coverage of mobility systems, properly integrate projects and build cities that take into account the needs of all people and inhabitants of the space that they are part of.


Loukaitou Anastasia, E. R. (2011). 

Sidewalks Conflict and Negotation over Public Space.Lynch, K. (1959). The image of the city. Buenos Aires: Infinite.Marta, A. (2003). 

Disabled: The claim of equality in difference. Bellaterra.Saskia, S. (2019). This is City. In Speaking City.

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