This is one of the overpasses Robert Moses built on the Long Island Parkway. Moses specified that the height of these overpasses must be low, some with clearances as low as 7’7”. That’s about the height I can reach if I raise my hand above my head, if that gives you an idea of how low that is.

Why so low? Moses wanted to ensure that buses would never be able to pass beneath these overpasses. In other words, you could access the beautiful parks of Long Island if you owned a car—which, in the middle of the twentieth century, meant that you were fairly affluent, and almost certainly white.

Moses’ design of these overpasses meant that if you relied on mass transit—in other words, if you were Black, or poor, or both—you would be prevented from accessing the parkways, and the lovely parks they led to.

Throughout history, there are many, many instances of design being used much as Robert Moses did—as a means to encode racist and classist biases, as a vehicle through which vulnerable communities are harmed.

Ethan Marcotte on the power of design.

The rest of the post is about how these sorts of issues manifest in the tech industry, which has been historically terrible at even acknowledging them, let alone addressing them.1

  1. I mean say what you want about Robert Moses, but at least he was actively racist in his city planning, not just racist because he’d never bothered to think about the implications of his actions… []