the just city essays, volume 1

Over the past decade, there have been numerous conversations about the “livable city,” the “green city,” the “sustainable city” and, most recently, the “resilient city.” At the same time, today’s headlines—from Ferguson to Baltimore, Paris to Johannesburg—resound with the need for frank dialogue about the structures and processes that affect the quality of life and livelihoods of urban residents. Issues of equity, inclusion, race, participation, access and ownership remain unresolved in many communities around the world, even as we begin to address the challenges of affordability, climate change adaptation and resilience. The persistence of injustice in the world’s cities—dramatic inequality, unequal environmental burdens and risks, and uneven access to opportunity—demands a continued and reinvigorated search for ideas and solutions.

Professor in Practice Toni L. Griffin envisioned an essay project that would invite practitioners and scholars to put forward their imaginations about the Just City.  While serving as director at the J. Max Bond Center on Design for the Just City at the City College of New York School of Architecture, she created a partnership with Next City and the The Nature of Cities. All three organizations offer platforms for thought leaders and grassroots activists who are working to identify both aspirational and practical strategies for building livable, sustainable, resilient and just cities. Our shared values brought us together to produce the first volume of The Just City Essays.

The outreach to our invited 24 authors began with two straightforward questions: what would a just city look like, and what could be strategies to get there? We raised these questions to architects, mayors, artists, doctors, designers, scholars, philanthropists, ecologists, urban planners, and community activists. Their responses came to us from 22 cities across five continents and myriad vantages. Each offers a distinct perspective rooted in a particular place or practice. Each is meant as a provocation—a call to action. You will notice common threads as well as notes of dissonance. Just like any urban fabric, heterogeneity reigns.

Remember, this project began with questions, not answers. We hope this collection will inspire, and also be read as an invitation to imagine a city where urban justice may still be still unrealized, yet is urgently desired in the dreams of so many. The dialogue is only beginning, and much work remains to be done in cities across the world.