J. Max Bond Center for Urban Futures

Private: Initiatives

As physical designers, we have the ability to create outcome, process and engagement innovations that facilitate the Just City.

During Spring semesters, JMBC offers an interactive seminar with graduate students to investigate the roots and current conditions of cities and communities, encourage students to create a Just City manifesto, and develop metrics to assess how design can inform and influence, design interventions, practice, and policy reforms for a more Just City.

Course Background

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. Within the US, New York State has the highest income inequality, but among the top ten states with the highest income inequality, does better than 7 out of the 10 states on health and social indicators.

It is quite easy in a vibrant city like New York for some segments of the local population, as well as visitors from outside the city, to overlook the affects of its income disparities. Effective public policies and economic development strategies have eradicated a large share of the historically “seedy” areas of Manhattan, only to push many of these conditions into other parts of the city and region, including lower cost housing, homelessness and undesirable land uses to name a few. While New York may be performing better than some in the areas of human health and quality of life, inequality is still on the rise and contributing to the realities of a geographically and socially divided city. This trend should cause us to question whether our city, often held up as a global standard for economic and cultural vibrancy, is truly a “Just City”.

In the book, “The Just City”, Professor Susan Fainstein describes the principle components of urban justice as equity, diversity, and democracy (Fainstein, 2010). Certainly the health and social conditions Wilkinson and Pickett examine provide cause to be concerned about the macro-level state of urban justice. But in the space of urban planning and design, one might argue that New York City has launched some progressive initiatives over the last twelve years that begin to promote urban justice in the public realm. The City’s Design & Construction Excellence Program and Great Streets Initiative can be lifted up as positive examples of providing more equitable access to quality design of public facilities and public street improvements that prioritize pedestrian safety and comfort. But when we examine the presence of urban justice in housing, transportation, commercial development and infrastructure, it might be fair to question whether New York City has more to do in promoting a more Just City, where the functions of city planning and design can go even further in playing an active role in this pursuit. Imagine if we identified specific metrics for evaluating the performance of New York City’s public spaces, housing developments, commercial districts or transportation modes for their impact of creating more urban justice?

See Spring 2013 Course Manifestos

Public Life Urban Justice (2015) summarizes an 18-month collaboration between Gehl Studio, J. Max Bond Center, and Transportation Alternatives that developed, investigated, measured, and evaluated how seven recently implemented New York City Plazas contribute to quality public life and greater social justice.