Een jaar na haar bezoek aan Rotterdam als Guest Urban Critic nodigde AIR in 2018 Toni Griffin opnieuw uit voor een masterclass ‘Design For A Just City’ met studenten van de Veldacademie. Ontwerp, inclusiviteit, diversiteit en rechtvaardigheid zijn sleutelbegrippen in haar praktijk. Ter gelegenheid van de masterclass schreef Griffin een voorwoord om haar drijfveren en activiteiten omtrent Design For the Just City te contextualiseren. Deze tekst is gepubliceerd is in de brochure die verscheen na afloop van de masterclass.
Toni Griffin is oprichter van het bureau ‘Urban Planning and Design for the American City’ in New York en professor aan de Harvard Graduate School of Design. Eerder werkte zij onder meer als projectdirecteur aan ‘Detroit Future City’, het integrale raamwerk voor de revitalisatie van de stad Detroit. Toni Griffin heeft jarenlange ervaring als ontwerper, planner en onderzoeker in het verbinden van complexe stedelijke transformatieopgaven aan het dagelijks leven.
‘After twenty years of practice in the design and planning professions, working in a dozen different US cities, I realized these cities all shared the same urban challenges – blight, vacancy, concentrated poverty, inefficient infrastructure, health disparities, public safety, affordability and rapid neighborhood change. These challenges were also negatively affecting the same population – the poor, people of color, children and single-female headed households. These conditions seemed wholly unjust and I began to question my role as a designer and planner to dismantle these conditions. In response, over the last eight years, I created a research agenda to investigate this question.
In 2011, as director of the J. Max Bond Center at City College of New York, we launched an initiative on Design for the Just City. When our work first began by asking people to complete a simple statement, “The Just City must have…” Using simple postcards distributed at events held on and off campus, we asked people to describe their vision for a just city. Over a year’s time, we received over 400 postcards from a racially diverse demographic including designers and non-designers, young and old, wealthy and lower income. The responses fell into three categories – basic human rights (food, education), physical elements of the city (transportation, housing) and values (equity, trust, inclusion).
Overall, people’s instincts were to imagine outcomes that benefitted society at large. There was an overwhelming sense that “everyone” deserved “everything”. This “concern for all” led our team to believe that the aspirations for shared values could become the basis for problematizing the challenges of our cities, as well as the designing solutions to solve them – values-driven approach to design.
Since 2016, the research has advanced at the Just City Lab at Harvard Graduate School of Design. Here, through a series of course assignments and public events, we first asked people to identify the conditions of injustice in the cities before asking them to imagine a more just future. Similar to the initial exercise, people articulated challenges related to basic human needs and rights, as well as challenges within the build and natural environment. Respondents also described the absence of positive values including conditions of exclusion, disparity, inequality and intolerance to name a few. But depending on the city or neighborhood, the combination of injustices described was different. People were able to think more specifically about the spaces they inhabit and describe what wasn’t working. We then asked the same people to describe their values for a Just City. This time, the aspirations for justice directly related to eradicating social and spatial injustices in a specific location, and therefore the values were different each time we conducted the experiment in a different city or neighborhood.
These engagement experiments taught us valuable lessons about what defined the Just City. First, our aspirations for a Just City are more clearly articulated when we imagine its values as an action required to address a condition of injustice. For example, if a community identifies a lack of public transportation and lack of interaction between rich and poor populations, they then seek a Just City that demands the values of increased access and social and spatial connectivity.
The second lesson revealed that the Just City is not a singular imaginary or a “one size fits all” ambition. Instead, it is a thoughtfully ascribed set of values and goals, selected by each community, to address specific conditions of that city. As such, A Just Rotterdam will be different from a Just Amsterdam, or a Just Boston – and rightly so.
In 2017, the Just City Lab released the Just City Index, a language of 12 indicators and 50 values, designed to assist communities in drafting their vision for a Just City. In the United States, some of our core values remain in tension with the realities of our past and present.
Our racial history, political tribalism and growing xenophobia often overshadow our principles of diversity, entrepreneurial and egalitarianism and make having conversations about these issues with people from different ethnicities and income classes difficult and sometimes painful. Our team’s recent trips to Rotterdam pleasantly revealed a strong appetite for the Just City Index, as the city has adopted a Charter of Compassion, designed to bring the city’s residents together in conversations about accepting and integrating different populations and cultures into the identity of the city. Our neighborhood tours, meetings with locals, workshops and even this masterclass suggest that just like in the US, marginalized populations struggle to be heard and see themselves reflected in the built environment and seated at the tables where decisions are made.
The Just City Index was created to empower communities to create a shared vision for addressing injustice, making all voices heard, designing beautiful cities that value different identities. We hope the tool will be used by city leaders, community activists and in classrooms as a way to change our approach to articulating the things we want in our cities and neighborhoods. In doing so, we hope the Index provides a safe language that helps communities more easily work past conflict and more effectively design cities that are more Just.’
Toni L. Griffin
Professor in Practice of Urban Planning
Director, The Just City Lab
Harvard Graduate School of Design
Founder and Principal