“…social inequalities are partially spatially constructed and are, therefore, malleable.”
One of the sayings I grew up hearing as a child in Cyprus goes like this: “Άνθρωπος έν ο τόπος τζιαί ο τόπος γέριμος” (anthropos en o topos tze o topos gerimos), which can be translated into “A human is a place and the place is neglected.” The way the two clauses of the saying are connected however—the “and”—always preoccupied my mind and felt puzzling to me. What does the “and” stand for? What is it trying to capture? Years later, as a refugee, a member of the Greek diaspora, and a researcher who explores how the built environment intersects with disparities, I came to see the unbearable power of the “and” to shape our common humanity.
I was ten years old, when the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus plunged 200,000 Greek-Cypriots into the murky turbulent waters of displacement. Losing my house and home ruptured my way of being. I set out to quench my thirst for a sense of what home means by focusing my doctoral studies on connecting with other refugees in Cyprus, particularly people who, like me, had children born after the war. The Making of a Refugee – Children Adopting Refugee Identity in Cyprus shares the stories of 200 parents and their children.
Design, I learned, matters; and it matters because meaning-making is fundamental to human existence and because the physical, emotional, mental, social, political, economic, and cultural costs of suppressed meaning-making processes carry forward for generations.
The same finding kept coming to the surface after I connected with Hmong, Somali, Mexicans, Ojibwe, and African Americans in Minnesota, communities also touched by displacement. Social inequalities are partially spatially constructed and are, therefore, malleable is the premise behind The Right to Home – Exploring How Space, Culture, and Identity Intersect with Disparities. Design characteristics of homes can support or suppress individuals’ attempts to create meaning in their lives, which in turn, impacts well-being and delineates the production of health, income, and educational disparities.
As the Twin Cities of Minnesota became the global epicenter for social and racial justice following the murder of George Floyd twelve blocks from my house, I found myself frozen. Questions crowded my mind, weighing me down: Do I have the right to tell the stories of Black and indigenous people? And, what if I made a mistake, further perpetuating stereotypes? Through an introspection, I renewed my vows to continue to advocate for built environments that pave the way for social and racial justice, equality, freedom, and global citizenship. These can be home interiors that support diverse eating, praying, and socializing practices and business districts that encourage the creation of Black-owned, immigrant-owned, woman-owned entrepreneurship. Culturally Enriched Communities (CEC) employ research and design interventions to create healthy and connected communities in which everyone can thrive.
Hope you will dare and care to become a Cultural Enricher, helping raise awareness about the role the built environment can play in reducing disparities and discovering new ways to shape your community’s economic and cultural vitality.
Tasoulla Hadjiyanni, Ph.D.
Founder and Director
College of Design, University of Minnesota