Searching for the Just City: Debates in Urban Theory and Practice

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Cities are many things. Among their least appealing aspects, cities are frequently characterized by concentrations of insecurity and exploitation. Cities have also long represented promises of opportunity and liberation. Public decision-making in contemporary cities is full of conflict, and principles of justice are rarely the explicit basis for the resolution of disputes. If today’s cities are full of injustices and unrealized promises, how would a Just City function? Is a Just City merely a utopia, or does it have practical relevance? This book engages with the growing debate around these questions.

The notion of the Just City emerges from philosophical discussions about what justice is combined with the intellectual history of utopias and ideal cities. The contributors to this volume, including Susan Fainstein, David Harvey and Margit Mayer articulate a conception of the Just City and then examine it from differing angles, ranging from Marxist thought to communicative theory. The arguments both develop the concept of a Just City and question it, as well as suggesting alternatives for future expansion. Explorations of the concept in practice include case studies primarily from U.S. cities, but also from Europe, the Middle East and Latin America.

The authors find that a forthright call for justice in all aspects of city life, putting the question of what a Just City should be on the agenda of urban reform, can be a practical approach to solving questions of urban policy. This synthesis is provocative in a globalised world and the contributing authors bridge the gap between theoretical conceptualizations of urban justice and the reality of planning and building cities. The notion of the Just City is an empowering framework for contemporary urban actors to improve the quality of urban life and Searching for the Just City is a seminal read for practitioners, professionals, students, researchers and anyone interested in what urban futures should aim to achieve.

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About the author

Peter Marcuse, a lawyer and urban planner, is Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning at Columbia University in New York City. He is currently involved in, and has written on, the impact of September 11 on New York City, of Katrina on New Orleans, and on globalization, focusing on its impact on social justice.

James Connolly is a doctoral student in Urban Planning at Columbia University. His research focuses on the role of community organizations within complex organizational fields of urban policy-making.

Johannes Novy is currently finishing his PhD in Urban Planning at Columbia University's Graduate School for Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Novy's research interests include planning history and theory, urban tourism, as well as urban development in North America and Europe.

Ingrid Olivo is a PhD student in Urban Planning at Columbia University. Her research focuses on the role of cultural heritage in post-disaster development planning.

Cuz Potter is a doctoral student in the Urban Planning Department at Columbia University.

Justin Steil is a joint PhD/JD student in Urban Planning and in Law at Columbia University. His research focuses on the exercise of power through control over space, especially through the relation between housing, land use and immigration.

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Additional Information

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Published on
May 29, 2009
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Architecture / Urban & Land Use Planning
Science / Earth Sciences / Geography
Social Science / Human Geography
Social Science / Sociology / Urban
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The worldwide financial crisis has sent shock-waves of accelerated economic restructuring, regulatory reorganization and sociopolitical conflict through cities around the world. It has also given new impetus to the struggles of urban social movements emphasizing the injustice, destructiveness and unsustainability of capitalist forms of urbanization. This book contributes analyses intended to be useful for efforts to roll back contemporary profit-based forms of urbanization, and to promote alternative, radically democratic and sustainable forms of urbanism.

The contributors provide cutting-edge analyses of contemporary urban restructuring, including the issues of neoliberalization, gentrification, colonization, "creative" cities, architecture and political power, sub-prime mortgage foreclosures and the ongoing struggles of "right to the city" movements. At the same time, the book explores the diverse interpretive frameworks – critical and otherwise – that are currently being used in academic discourse, in political struggles, and in everyday life to decipher contemporary urban transformations and contestations. The slogan, "cities for people, not for profit," sets into stark relief what the contributors view as a central political question involved in efforts, at once theoretical and practical, to address the global urban crises of our time.

Drawing upon European and North American scholarship in sociology, politics, geography, urban planning and urban design, the book provides useful insights and perspectives for citizens, activists and intellectuals interested in exploring alternatives to contemporary forms of capitalist urbanization.

For much of the twentieth century improvement in the situation of disadvantaged communities was a focus for urban planning and policy. Yet over the past three decades the ideological triumph of neoliberalism has caused the allocation of spatial, political, economic, and financial resources to favor economic growth at the expense of wider social benefits. Susan Fainstein's concept of the "just city" encourages planners and policymakers to embrace a different approach to urban development. Her objective is to combine progressive city planners' earlier focus on equity and material well-being with considerations of diversity and participation so as to foster a better quality of urban life within the context of a global capitalist political economy.

Fainstein applies theoretical concepts about justice developed by contemporary philosophers to the concrete problems faced by urban planners and policymakers and argues that, despite structural obstacles, meaningful reform can be achieved at the local level. In the first half of The Just City, Fainstein draws on the work of John Rawls, Martha Nussbaum, Iris Marion Young, Nancy Fraser, and others to develop an approach to justice relevant to twenty-first-century cities, one that incorporates three central concepts: diversity, democracy, and equity. In the book's second half, Fainstein tests her ideas through case studies of New York, London, and Amsterdam by evaluating their postwar programs for housing and development in relation to the three norms. She concludes by identifying a set of specific criteria for urban planners and policymakers to consider when developing programs to assure greater justice in both the process of their formulation and their effects.

James Connolly served in the British Army for seven years but would go on to lead the 1916 Irish Rising against British rule in Dublin. Following service he joined the socialist movement in Scotland. He founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party and pioneered the application of Marxist ideas to Irish questions. His goal was a socialist Workers' Republic. In the United States Connolly joined the IWW in 1905 and campaigned across the country with the Socialist Party for Eugene Debs for President. In 1916 he believed Europe was ripe for revolution and hoped an Irish insurrection could act as a spark. He was correct and for this he was executed by the British government but his spirit has never been buried. Connolly led working class struggles and theorised them. He is one of the most fascinating leaders the socialist movement has ever produced. Despite great tragedies he remained a committed revolutionary. His life and ideas are essential for understanding Irish history and the global struggle for human liberation.

The James Connolly Reader contains his most important articles, pamphlets and books. An extensive introduction contextualises Connolly for anyone interested in Irish history, struggles for self-determination and the global socialist movement. Connolly was a leading participant at the epicenter of events shaping the course of modern Ireland. Those events and Connolly's practical and theoretical contribution are critically relevant. He insisted and action on the belief the world could and must be turned upside down in pursuit of human liberation. Another Ireland, another world was possible and Connolly was determined to see it born.

 Editor: Gordon Grigsby 

Associate Editors: Jan Schmittauer, Matthew M Cariello, & 

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