Design for the Just City

In “The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger”, Dr. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett present a compelling set of data illustrating that material inequality has a profound influence on population stratification, status insecurity and competition, and the prevalence of all the urban problems associated with chronic health and social conditions, as well as the strength of community life (Wilkinson and Pickett, 2009). The data reveals that the United States ranks the worst among other countries with the highest income inequality and the worst index of health and social problems.

Similarly, when we examine the presence of urban justice in housing, transportation, commercial development and infrastructure, it might be fair to question whether there is more to do in creating a Just City, where the disciplines of city planning and design should be playing a more active role in policy making, participatory process design and innovative physical interventions that address both spatial and social justice issues. Imagine if we created a process and specific metrics for evaluating the performance of the city’s public spaces, housing developments, commercial districts or transportation systems for their impact of creating more urban justice?

As designers, policy makers and creators of the built environment, we have the ability to produce outcome, process and engagement innovations that facilitate the Just City. This interactive seminar will investigate the roots and current conditions of injustice in cities, concepts of urban justice and the intentions of design movements to affect justice as a way to inform the production of student Just City manifestos, the development of metrics to assess how design can facilitate greater urban justice, and a participatory tool to assess the presence of justice and/or injustice in a local neighborhood.

Course activities will include active course discussions, lectures, guest speakers, site visits, opinion essays, individual and collaborative research and analysis, and student presentations. Specific course outcomes include:

1. Defining the “Just City” through digital collages, manifesto essays and short multi-media videos
2. Developing Just City metrics framework and participatory process (inclusive of environmental, aesthetic, program, civic, cultural, health and economic indicators)
3. Analyzing and measuring presence of justice and injustice in a local neighborhood using the Just City metric framework