Design for a Just City
Far far away, behind the word mountains, far from the countries Vokalia and Consonantia, there live the blind texts. Separated they live in Bookmarksgrove right at the coast.
Sep 2018 - Dec 2019
Selina Abraham (Urban Empact)
Veldacademie, The Just City Lab, Architecture Institute of Rotterdam

In 2016, Selina worked with the Veldacademie to document the work behind a Masterclass with Toni L. Griffin from the Just City Lab @Harvard GSD, held in collaboration with the Veldacademie and AIR in June 2018. The publication delves into the merits of using a value-based approach like the Just City Index for designing cities, illustrated through the results of the week-long masterclass.

The Just City Index

So what is the Just City Index? The index is a set of 50 intrinsic human values as design indicators to be used to help communities find common and shared goals for future development. With the aim of creating a process for collective action as an alternative approach to urban and social development. It uses a value-driven methodology that provides different interest groups with a common tool-box that can help negotiate differences and develop a joint manifesto or vision that can lead to the creation of a ‘just’ city. The hypothesis of this approach is that unlike economic-driven growth, a value-based model can withstand political and market pressures by providing common goals for the community to aspire towards. 

It is important to note that the use of the term ‘communities’ is not limited to residents or citizens but inclusive of various stakeholders in the development of the urban realm. Hence, the audience for this research includes the public sector or the municipality, the business sector, institutions and NGOs who are communities in their own right. The index can also be a reflective lens for designers and decision makers to work with. Griffin describes the methodology as emerging from her own experiences as an urban planner design in segregated American cities. The Just City Index is the collaborative result of her work with the Just City Lab at Harvard GSD so that other designers, decision makers, educators and researchers have the benefit of viewing their work through a ‘just’ lens and developing their own just processes that will result in equitable and inclusive cities for everyone. It is based on the presumption that every city, neighbourhood or street has their own unique needs to make it a ‘just’ society. The fifty values allows a community to choose and negotiate for the values that they want for their future and subsequently design for those values. To effectively use the values, the index is accompanied by a framework with four exercises - reflect, map, align and create, that can potentially lead to a value-based manifesto and design prototypes that can disrupt unjust processes. 

The Masterclass – Design for a Just City

The masterclass, 'Design for a Just City' chose a testing ground of four neighbourhoods in the city of Rotterdam to use the indicators of the Just City Index. The participants asked three research questions at each site. Firstly, what elements of the development can be chronicled as 'just' or 'unjust'? Secondly, what values from the Just City Index align with the needs of the neighbourhood? And, thirdly, what recommendations can be made to the developers and the municipality to create a more 'just' neighbourhood? However, the index is essentially designing with a 'just' lens and can ideally be used as in the process of designing objects, buildings, neighbourhoods, urban systems etc., that can have a positive impact on justice in the city. With this method, the participants arrived at different alternatives for the city. At Feyenoord city they picked values of transparency and agency to create the "just game", a process of inclusive decision making packed in the format of a board game. At Crooswijk, the team took on integration and community to create a network of intervention based around the theme of food. At Hart van Zuid, the team took on the unused public spaces at Zuidplein to address the lack of concrete proposals for the social programme in the current development.

The Design for a Just City Masterclass, June 2018

This booklet chronicled the origins of the collaboration, the methodology behind the masterclass, the work produced by the participants and the future tangents of this research.

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