Patterned Justice: Design Languages for a Just Pittsburgh

Christopher Alexander’s seminal 1977 book “A Pattern Language” describes that people designing their environments rely on certain "languages” that allow them to articulate and communicate an infinite variety of designs within a legible and coherent system. "Patterns," the units of this language, are answers to urban planning and design problems including, “How much space in a neighborhood should be devoted to the public realm?” or “What are the ways of designing mixed-use spaces for the informal economy of disinvested communities”?

The Just City Lab at Harvard GSD has created “The Just City Index”, a framework of 50 values, for communities to assess current conditions of justice or injustice, and then identify and define the necessary values to make cities or neighborhoods more just.  The conditions of injustice and justice are different for different people, communities and cities around the world, and therefore each should be able to construct the values most critical to their vision for justice.

As cities become more diverse, yet remain racially and economically segregated, there must be a cross-disciplinary conversation about the just distribution of goods, services, powers, and rights. We must ask who participates in designing our cities; how to achieve acceptance of different cultural normatives and a common ground for future city development.  Urban planning and design processes therefore need a value-based manifesto and agglomeration of tactics and arrangements that help to advance urban justice by involving a variety of city-builders and disciplinary expertise. In Pittsburgh, organizations like The Heinz Endowments work to balance the demands for advancing economic growth and environmental resiliency and the equally pressing demand for reconciling long-standing wounds of racial segregation. Planning strategies are needed to address issues including but not limited to 1) inclusion and belonging in the public realm; 2) anti-displacement in the wake of new investment and value creation; 3) new models of vacant land reclamation and the reuse of industrial sites and neighborhoods decimated by urban renewal; 4) protections and conservation of natural resources against the effects of climate change and 5) the participation of marginalized communities in process of city making.

This will be a multi-disciplinary option studio that will interrogate and advance socio-spatial justice through design and planning “pattern-making” in Pittsburgh, PA. The studio will be conducted through a process of co-creation and the results will be published as a part of handbook that can help advance the work of local organizations in Pittsburgh.  The studio will run in parallel with the Veldacademie in Rotterdam, Netherlands, a collaborator of the Just City Lab since 2017.

A sample of studio outcomes include:

Create a collection of 50 spatial design and policy patterns to act as a tool-kit for urban design processes linked to the Just City Index values.
Conduct a workshop with invited members of the Pittsburgh community to facilitate a co-creation process, the results of which will form the basis of creating the patterns.
The studio, open to all disciplines, will feature guest critics throughout the studio.