After the Chicago fire city planners had the chance to redesign the city so that it could support all the people that had come to call it home. That's why Chicago is so grid-like. But this isn't the only instance of design being used to alter cities, in fact, almost every aspect of a city has been designed for one purpose or another.
It probably sounds simple now, but the fact that streets and sidewalks are designated for cars and people respectively wasn't always the case. Back in the day, people shared both spaces, and in some places, this seems to be the trend again. Some places are getting rid of road signs and letting people and cars share the road again. In many cases, this is letting people (on foot, and in cars) get to where they are going faster, and with fewer accidents.
In place of intersections, there is typically a round-about style crossing, where cars and people share the space, moving in whatever direction they need to go. Cars are forced to slow down, and pay absolute attention, no driving on "auto-pilot" and so there are fewer accidents because drivers are more cautious. But since cars don't have to wait for traffic lights, they usually get to where they are going faster - it sounds like a win-win.
But as we have seen this used so far there have been some concerns, namely for people who are visually impaired. Right now people who are visually impaired use road signs to navigate cities, and many of these road signs even have the ability to "speak" so that those who have trouble seeing at all can hear when it's okay to walk.
There needs to be more research before we see a design that works for everyone, a concept known as universal design. Universal design is designing things so that everyone can use them equally - and it is not easy.
Some of you may have noticed that in public restrooms newer toilets are usually higher, and this is pretty useful for people maneuvering out of a wheelchair, but what if you are a Little Person? What if it is now too tall for you? How do you live in, and explore a space that has been designed without you in mind?
Other design choices are made intentionally to exclude people. I know of no person who loves park benches, although the hard strips of wood (with wide gaps between them) aggressively pushing me in some places, which is made worse by the areas I am left with no support, rarely ruin my day (although sometimes make for an uncomfortable lunch). But what if these "benches" where your only place to rest for the night?
With armrests just big enough to stop you from lying down, they are made with the intent to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them, not unlike the tops of statues that have spiked to prevent birds from resting on them.
Design can not only make places more beautiful, or more efficient, design can dictate who space is for. When we design a city so that it is harder for people with visual impairment, or for Little People, then we are saying that they don't belong in this city.
When we design places, cities, our environment, we need to make choices that work for everyone, we need to choose designs that don't choose certain people for certain areas, we need to design for everyone.