Planning and the Just City

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Planning and the Just City

Susan S. Fainstein

Program in Urban Planning

Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation

Columbia University

Conference on Searching for the Just City, GSAPP

Columbia University

April 29, 2006

The profession of city planning was born of a vision of the good city. Its roots lie in the 19th century radicalism of Ebenezer Howard and his associates, in Baron Haussmann’s conception of creative destruction, and in the more conventional ideas of the urban progressives in the United States and their technocratic European counterparts. While the three approaches differed in their orientation toward democracy, in their content, and in their distributional outcomes, they all had their start in a revulsion at the chaotic and unhealthful character of the industrial city. Their common purpose was to achieve efficiency, order, and beauty through the imposition of reason (Scott , Seeing like a State).

Today planning is mostly characterized by modesty. Despite some exceptions, especially the advocates for the new urbanism, most planners and academic commentators argue that visionaries should not impose their views upon the public.1 Moreover, skepticism reigns over whether it is possible to identify a model of a good city. Attacks on the visionary approach have come from across the ideological spectrum. The left has attacked planning for its class bias (Harvey 1978, Gans 1968), for its anti-democratic character (Davidoff and Reiner 1962, Yiftachel 1998), and for its failure to take account of difference (Thomas 1996). The right sees planning as denying freedom (Hayek 1944) and producing inefficiency (Anderson 1964) and regards markets as the appropriate allocators of urban space (Klosterman 1985). Centrists consider comprehensive planning inherently undemocratic and unattainable (Altshuler 1965) and see the modernists efforts to redesign cities as destructive of the urban fabric and indifferent to people’s comfort and desires (Hall 2002, Jacobs 1961). And indeed the history of planning practice seems to validate the critics: Postwar American urban renewal and highway building programs and European social housing development produced displacement, the break-up of communities, and unattractive, socially homogeneous projects. Now, the emphasis on economic competitiveness that tops every city’s list of objectives causes planning to give priority to growth at the expense of all other values, providing additional evidence to the critics who see it as serving developer interests at the expense of everyone else.

Still, despite the theoretical critique, practical difficulties of implementation, and inequitable outcomes so far, the progressive/leftist ideal of a revitalized, cosmopolitan, just, and democratic city remains. Even while this vision seems forever chimerical, it remains a latent ideal. Its content tends to be assumed as self-evident, but it is the measure against which practice is found wanting. Thus, when particular cases of planning are examined, they are usually castigated for deadening the environment, producing unjust distributional outcomes, and failing to take into account the views of affected citizens. But using this critique implies that planning could do otherwise.

Thus, while the critical planning literature attacks planning in practice, it assumes that we know good and bad when we see it and that we do not need to make elaborate arguments justifying our criteria. My own work embodies such an obliviousness. In an article entitled “Cities and Diversity” (2005), I defined the just city in terms of democracy, equity, diversity, growth, and sustainability (philosophers might argue that this is the good city not the just city). These values, however, are problematic in that they all have undesirable potentials or risks. Illiberal majorities can make democracy indifferent to minority rights; the high cost of achieving equity through redistribution creates resentment among those who must sacrifice, resulting in a legitimation crisis and even counter-revolution or civil war; diversity can lead to social breakdown; and growth, while making redistribution less of a zero-sum game, benefits most those who already have the most. Sustainability may diminish growth thereby producing unemployment and sacrificing desired consumption. At any rate, I did not attempt a justification for choosing these values but simply assumed agreement on them. The appropriate value criteria for urban development, however, require extensive analysis.

Likewise the question of whether to focus on “the city” or metropolitan area needs justification. Why not the region, the nation, the world? Is Paul Peterson (1981) right about city limits? In his book of that name, Peterson argues that while city administrations could foster economic growth, they could not engage in redistribution without stimulating capital flight and thus unemployment and a decreasing tax base. Manuel Castells (1977) conversely asserts that cities are not the sources of production—that this is a regional function. If this is the case, and if production is key to the formation of economic interests, is there any point to restricting analysis to cities or even metro areas?

To be sure cities cannot be viewed in isolation; they are within networks of governmental institutions and capital flows. Robert Dahl , in a classic 1967 article, referred to the Chinese box problem of participation and power: at the level of the neighborhood, there is the greatest opportunity for democracy but the least amount of power; as we scale up the amount of decision-making power increases, but the potential of people to affect outcomes diminishes. The city level therefore is one layer in the hierarchy of governance. But the variation that exists among cities within the same country in relation to values like tolerance, quality of public services, availability of affordable housing, segregation/integration, points to a degree of autonomy. Justice is not achievable at the urban level without support from other levels, but discussion of urban programs requires a concept of justice relevant to what is within city government’s power and in terms of the goals of urban movements (Fainstein and Hirst 1995). Moreover, there are particular policy areas in which municipalities have considerable discretion and thus the power to distribute benefits and cause harm; these include urban redevelopment, racial and ethnic relations, open space planning, and service delivery. Castells (1983), while minimizing cities’ role in production, regards them as the locus of collective consumption—i.e. the place in which citizens can acquire collective goods that make up for deficiencies in the returns to their labor. Consequently he contends that urban social movements can potentially produce a municipal revolution even though he does not believe that they can create social transformation. According to this logic, then, urban movements do have transformative potential despite being limited to achieving change only at the level in which they are operating.

In this paper I present an example of urban injustice and ultimately discuss the value criteria which should be applied to it. I then examine more generally the issues aring from various value criteria and their applicability to urban issues. In order to discuss these criteria, I will examine some recent work within philosophy that can be usefully employed in the evaluation of urban development. The thoughts presented here represent the beginning of a larger project in which I attempt to develop an urban vision that can frame goals for urban development without being vulnerable to charges of moral absolutism.

An example: the Bronx Terminal Market

To illustrate my discussion I will tell the story of a recent New York City planning decision with which I was peripherally involved as an advocate planner and which bears on the first three of the abovementioned policy areas (urban redevelopment, racial and ethnic relations, open space planning). It concerns the eviction of the wholesale food merchants at the Bronx Terminal Market, who have been forced to leave their premises so that the market site can be turned over to a development firm. The firm intends to build a million-square-foot, suburban-style retail development on the site where the Bronx Terminal Market had operated for nearly eighty years.

In February 2006 the New York City Council approved the rezoning of a parcel of industrially zoned, city-owned land in the South Bronx. Its purpose was to allow the Related Companies, New York’s largest speculative developer, to build a complex, to be called the Gateway Center at Bronx Terminal Market. It will include a hotel, a big-box retailer, and a standard array of chain stores enclosed within a single structure. The eight existing market buildings, some of which have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will be torn down. The wholesale food market, which lies directly beneath the Major Deegan Expressway, opened in the 1920s and was renovated and reopened with considerable fanfare by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in 1935. Several of the last remaining firms could trace their origins back to those early days. Reflecting the city’s ethnic diversity, the merchants sold their exotic produce, meats, and canned goods primarily to bodegas, African food stores, and other specialized retailers. The city leased the market to a private firm, which collected rents and managed the facility. During the last few decades, however, its neglect had resulted in decrepit structures, potholed roadways, inadequate services, grim interiors, and filthy surroundings. Those merchants who hung on to the end had suffered from the failure of the market’s manager to maintain the property. Yet as late as 2005, 23 remaining wholesalers (down from an original peak of nearly 100) and their 400 employees were still generating hundreds of millions of dollars in sales.

The chairman of the Related Companies, which bought the market lease from the previous leaseholder, is a close friend of the city’s deputy mayor for economic development. Part of the project’s financing depended on city and state subsidies, the plans had to be approved by locally elected public officials, and the site required a rezoning for retail use. But no meaningful give and take ever took place between the merchants’ association and city officials. The Related Companies’ glowing presentation of the project’s putative benefits was never seriously challenged by any public official. Although the Bronx borough president, members of the community board, and council members expressed sympathy for the plight of the merchants, who had endured decades of mistreatment, their sentiments did not move them to stand in the way of the juggernaut that was pushing the project. The treatment of the market comprises one more example of the priority given to economic development by city officials and the deployment of the utilitarian argument that decision rules should be based on the (alleged) greatest good of the greatest number.

The market merchants fought their displacement in court and before various city forums, including the local community board, the City Planning Commission, and the City Council. Sadly, however, the merchants lacked sufficient political influence to sway these officials either into willingness to integrate them into the Gateway project or to supply them with a suitable relocation site. By and large officials accepted the logic that the new mall represented necessary modernization and adaptation to the service economy.

Consultants to the market merchants proposed developing an integrated wholesale and retail market similar to the successful Pike Place Market in Seattle or New York’s own Chelsea Market. Construction of a combined wholesale-retail facility would have differentiated the enterprise from cookie-cutter malls around the country, exploited its urban setting, and retained existing jobs. Use of a vacant city-owned site to the south of the market as well as a northern piece could have increased the area available for wholesale uses, but the city wished to reserve these areas for parkland as part of a swap for McComb’s Dam Park, which it had designated as the location of a new Yankee Stadium. The developer of the shopping mall was pre-selected without solicitation of competitive bids or the opportunity for anyone to suggest other development strategies. Representatives of the city argued that since the developer bought the lease directly from the previous operator of the market, it was a purely private deal and thus required no competitive bidding. Thus, even though the city owns the land and the structures on it were leased to a manager who had neglected them for years, the leaseholder was nevertheless allowed to sell his interest without any requirement of competitive bidding or effort by the city to buy back the lease itself. The city excluded affected residents and businesses from participating in planning for the area, limiting their input to reacting to the already formulated plan. The developer provided the neighborhood with at best minor concessions in the form of a community benefits agreement. Hundreds of well-paying jobs, almost all held by adult male immigrants, will be lost, replaced primarily by part-time, low-paid employment, and a once vital and viable business cluster will be destroyed.

The mall intended for the South Bronx will present long, blank exterior walls, offering only a few corridors into the surrounding neighborhood. In addition, the adjacent big-box store is strongly opposed by local unions because of the employment practices of this type of merchandiser. Much of the site will be dedicated to parking decks, The architects’ renderings of the center show urbane visitors sipping cappuccino at outdoor sidewalk cafés flanking the mall. Presumably these boulevardiers would ignore the noise, soot, exhaust, and bird droppings drifting down from the highway immediately above them.

The justification for the project primarily stems from its economic contribution rather than the physical improvements it will contribute to the area. One of the claims of the Gateway Center’s developer is that the impoverished residents of the South Bronx crave the opportunity to shop at deep-discount stores. This is probably true, as New York has seen rising poverty and a declining median income since 1990. Residents are caught in a vicious circle: they cannot afford to patronize independent shopkeepers because their wages are so low, and their wages are so low because large corporations have been able to force down the general wage rate, justifying their stinginess as required by competition. The introduction of a big box store into this part of the Bronx will create more poorly paid employees who can only manage to patronize businesses that pay exploitative wages.

A legal process was followed, as determined by judicial decisions, and the deal was carried out with approval of the Community Board, the City Planning Commission, and the City Council. It was entirely a matter of local decision-making, with no involvement of either the state or the federal government.2 One could argue that structural forces (a changing economy, the need to compete) constrained decision-making. But the cases could have been decided differently and benefits could have been more equitably distributed.

One’s immediate reaction to this story is that injustice was done. The benefits of the project accrued to a wealthy developer and nationally owned chain stores. There was discrimination against small, independently owned businesses that were based in minority ethnic groups. Open space planning was conducted in a way intended to assist the New York Yankees rather than local residents. Can we demonstrate that these outcomes were unjust, and if so, by what criteria?

Progressive Values

For the most part, empirical analysis, policy development, and theoretical formulation have proceeded on separate tracks.3 Thus, my story of the Bronx Terminal Market resembles numerous other case studies in the urban literature that describe redevelopment projects and trace their outcomes to the power of the pro-growth coalition or the urban regime (Mollenkopf 1983, Logan and Molotch 1987, Fainstein and Fainstein 1986). They rarely, however, propose alternative policies. On the other hand, theoretical development of value criteria usually neither deals with specific cases nor spells out appropriate policy.4 I can, however, rattle out a list of values that urbanists generally regard as goods and bads:

  1. public space

    1. bad: lack of access, homogeneity

    2. good: heterogeneity

  2. quality of built environment

    1. bad: inauthenticity, conformist architecture

    2. good: historical accuracy; cutting edge architecture

  3. planning

    1. bad: rule of experts

    2. good: citizen participation

  4. social control

    1. Bad: order/domination

    2. Resistance/conflict

  5. housing

    1. bad: luxury dwellings

    2. good: affordable units

  6. segregation

    1. bad: exclusion

    2. good : mixing, even if conflictural

  7. mega-projects

    1. bad: large, top-down planned

    2. good: popular, incremental, preservation

  8. social services

    1. bad: privatization, individualization

    2. good: collective consumption

  9. economic development

    1. bad: entrepreneurial state

    2. good: small business, cooperatives

  10. environment

    1. bad: laissez-faire

    2. good: regulation; green development

Philosophers, in contrast to urban scholars, spend their time developing and elaborating their ideas concerning justice, but their scrutiny is rarely directed to urban issues.5 Contemporary discussions of justice within philosophy nevertheless do concern themselves with issues that are also of central importance to urbanists and can therefore be extended to evaluating urban policy. Foremost are the questions of equality, democracy, and difference.

Philosophical Approaches

The work of John Rawls (1971) constitutes the usual starting point for discussions of equality. As is well known, Rawls begins by positing an original position where individuals, behind a veil of ignorance, do not know their status in whatever society to which they will belong. Rawls’s first principle is liberty and his second, subsidiary principle is “difference,” by which he means equality. His argument is that free individuals, acting rationally, will choose a rough equality of primary goods so as to assure that they will not end up in an inferior position. Rawls’s approach has been so influential because it is able to justify equality without resorting to natural law, theology, altruism, Marxist teleology, or a diagnosis of human nature. Rather it presents a logical argument within a vocabulary acceptable to proponents of rational choice theory.

Feminists, communitarians, and multiculturalists accuse Rawls of paying insufficient attention to other values besides primary goods, an obliviousness to social differences resulting from nonmaterial causes, and a failure to understand that society itself (i.e. community, interpersonal relations) is a good that is excluded by his emphasis on the individual. The question of whether Rawls’s definition of primary goods can stretch to cover nonmaterial considerations does not concern us here, but, as will be discussed below, issues of gender, cultural difference, and individualism do. Nevertheless, we can take away from Rawls for our purposes his justification of equality as a rational approach to organizing a “well-ordered society” or a well-ordered city.

Sen (1999) and Nussbaum’s (2000) capabilities approach offers a further avenue for establishing values appropriate to the just city. Capabilities are what people are able to do and be; they do not describe how people actually function (i.e. end state) but rather what they have the opportunity to do. One need not exercise one’s capabilities if one chooses not to (e.g. one can become a monk), but the opportunity must be available, including a consciousness of the value of these capabilities. According to this reasoning, each person must be treated as an end, and there is a threshold level of each capability beneath which human functioning is not possible. Thus, even if it could be demonstrated that the eviction of the Bronx merchants would produce the greatest good for the greatest number, the deprivation of their capability to earn a living could not be justified.

Nussbaum argues that capabilities cannot be traded off against each other. She lists, inter alia, life, health, bodily integrity, access to education, control over one’s environment (political and material) as necessary capabilities. Translated into a communal rather than individualistic ethic, the capabilities approach would protect urban residents from having to sacrifice quality of life for financial gain. Hence, for example, communities desperate for an economic base should not have to accept toxic waste sites because they lack any other form of productive enterprise. In contrast, conservative economists who support establishing market systems in pollution controls see such trade-offs as highly rational and to be desired.

Nussbaum further argues that false consciousness exists and that preferences are shaped, not simply there to be discovered. Thus, the welfare economics criterion of maximizing choice becomes undermined if people are deluded regarding the nature of a particular preference. Again, to use the Bronx example, members of the City Planning Commission and the Bronx City Council delegation accepted unquestioningly the argument presented by the developers and city officials that residents of the Bronx would gain employment, amenities and purchasing power through the construction of a shopping mall. They never were provided a developed conception of alternative forms of development or of a refurbished wholesale food market catering to ethnic cuisines and consequently their preferences were insufficiently informed.

Of philosophers Jürgen Habermas has probably had the most influence on the discipline of planning (see Healey 2006, Forester 1993). The ideal speech situation and concepts of deliberative democracy have particularly resonated within planning theory. Habermas’s thought brings into play concepts of rationality, truth-telling, and democracy; its assumption is that through discourse, participants in decision-making will arrive at the best decision resulting from the force of the best argument. While offering criteria for evaluating the decision-making process, this approach does not, however, as Sen and Nussbaum’s capabilities do, provide a metric for evaluating policy outcomes.

Henri Lefebvre, like Iris Marion Young, is a philosopher who explicitly concerned himself with urbanism. His argument for “the right to the city” supports in particular the fight against the privatization of public space and the maintenance of heterogeneity within metropolitan areas (Lefebvre 1996; Mitchell 2003). As applied to the Bronx, it condemns the taking of public parks for a new Yankee Stadium and the takeover of the Market by a speculative developer. But, the “right” to the city” lacks specificity, both in terms of what is included in that right and what is meant by the city. It is a vague concept that is more useful as a rhetorical device than a policy-making instrument. At the same time it is useful to urban theorists because of its explicit concern with space, a variable excluded in most philosophical writing.

These philosophers then offer a route for considering planning actions and identifying their contributions to individual self-realization. They do provide criteria for evaluating policy. The fairly glaring weakness of their arguments as practical tools is their lack of concern for the methods of achieving their ends, their lack of a formula for dealing with entrenched power, and their indifference to the costs and trade-offs that might be incurred by actually seeking to produce social justice. Nussbaum contends that it is unacceptable to trade capabilities against each other; that all must be achieved. This, however, may not be possible. Unlike Marx, who criticized the utopians for their failure to identify a means to achieving their ends, contemporary political philosophers apparently feel that implementation is someone else’s concern. But planners, policy makers, and political activists, cannot wipe out history and act as if they start from scratch—they have to be contextualists. While utopian ideals provide goals toward which to aspire and inspiration by which to mobilize a constituency, they do not offer a strategy for transition within given historical circumstances. As Marx reminded us, people make their own history, but not under circumstances of their own making. Original positions, desired capabilities, ideal speech situations, and rights to the city seem remote from the actualities of the Bronx.


All these endeavors at providing a normative framework need to be examined in relation to practical realities of regime formation, social exclusion, and the bases of conflict, and they ought to take into account the variation among places. Each philosophical line of attack presents serious issues. Rawls justifies the value of equality by arguing that, in the original position, behind a veil of ignorance, each individual would opt for it. We are, however, never in the original position (as is argued by communitarian critics). Rawls’s “difference principle” (ironically) evades questions of difference based on disability or multiculturalism (see Nussbaum 2006; Young 1990). Equality of primary goods does not compensate for physical incapacity or disrespect.6 The Market merchants who sold goods to bodega owners did not receive the same deference as the owners of the New York Yankees. Not only were they treated unjustly in the sense that they did not receive fair compensation for their loss of business, but their outrage and alternative proposals were treated with indifference and even contempt.

Nor does the difference principle deal with the loss of liberty arising from obligations arising from family responsibilities and the limitations they place on liberty. Thus, Rawls has been criticized as overly materialistic (Young, 1990, p. 16; Nussbaum 2000, chap. 1; Hirschmann 1989; Jaggar 1983). Within rational choice theory it is always possible to compensate an individual for loss. In law, for instance, this outlook is codified in the payment of damages—you lose an arm in an industrial accident, and you receive X amount of dollars according to a Workman’s Compensation schedule. But we know that an arm is not really equivalent to any amount of money. Likewise one cannot escape the obligations of parenthood by paying a babysitter.

Starting with the individual leads to a discussion of equality among individuals rather than of social relationships among collectivities. Much of philosophical discussion in relation to justice thus revolves around the question of the desirability of equality based on primary goods—for example, whether or not handicapped individuals should receive the same amount of primary goods as everyone else or whether they should receive additional, compensatory benefits (Anderson 1999; Nussbaum 2006). A more sociological discussion would employ the term equity instead and concern itself with redressing disadvantage as its affects groups.

Equity leads us to include a broad range of considerations that concern us as planners—for example, the impacts of environmentally degrading facilities on different social groups, or who has access to public space and for what purposes public space can be used. It points to the results of public policies rather than to simply the analysis of starting points. By examining outcomes in relation to groups we avoid utilitarian cost-benefit analyses that focus on aggregates and we also have a better handle on power relations and social structures.

Failure to acknowledge the coherence of collectivities and their structural relationships to each other evades a fundamental social issue of redistribution—how avoid imposing an unacceptable burden on the better-off. How much social conflict is an acceptable price to pay for greater justice? What circumstances allow the diminution of control (political and material) of those who have a disproportionate amount? The starting point of individual liberty also avoids questions that bear on the character of collective goods—e.g. a high-quality built environment—if they are not necessary for the development of capabilities or remedying inequality. A recent debate on Chicago that has appeared on the urban sociology listserv has concerned whether the creation of a lively city with attractive amenities has widespread benefits or whether it is only pertinent to bourgeois consumers while low-income groups continue to suffer from social exclusion (Gilderbloom 2006). As phrased in this particular discussion, there seems to be an underlying assumption that low-income people do not care for amenities. In other words, it is implied that city beautification matters only to urban elites and that working class people care only for material benefits. Once, when I was teaching in New Brunswick, NJ, I asked a local minister, who was lecturing to my class, whether his congregation, which mainly resided in public housing, resented the transformation of downtown by brick sidewalks and street furniture. Did he feel that their space was being taken away from them for the benefit of young urban professionals. “Are you serious?” he replied. “Do you think my people don’t like to be somewhere that looks nice?” The right to the city ought to refer to more than mere inclusion—it needs to encompass access to an appealing city. Reaction against exclusionary practices seems to have devolved into regarding an association between low income people and ugly surroundings as desirable.

The capabilities approach can be usefully applied to urban issues but it is undeveloped for urban institutions and programs. In Sen’s (1999 chap. 3)attack on utilitarianism he argues against the analysis typically employed in the cost-benefit accounting that is used to justify urban capital programs. These analyses typically exaggerate benefits and underestimate costs (Flyvbjerg et al. 2003; Altshuler and Luberoff 2003), rely on aggregates, and do not concern themselves with distributional outcomes. A more sensitive form of analysis asks who benefits and assesses what outputs each group in the population receives. Then, applying either the difference principle or the capabilities approach, we should opt for that alternative that benefits the least well off. The definition of the least well off, however, is subjective and is usually categorized according to social group affiliation. What we do know is that it is the group most lacking in political and financial power and thus in the real world least likely to prevail.

Philosophers have had to take account of the post-modernist/post-structuralist emphasis on the situatedness of the speaker and its assault on the existence of a unitary ethic. Those like Nussbaum (1999 chap 1) who seek to retain a universalistic ethic agree that social concepts of the good differ but still maintain that there is a broad common value structure, even if that structure embraces tolerance and difference itself. Rawls (1971; 2001) asserts that neither a socialist command economy nor capitalist laissez-faire one can achieve justice. Even the welfare state fails in this goal, because it concentrates the control of productive resources in one group and produces a disadvantaged class. Current developments in the welfare states of Northern Europe, where income support for unemployed citizens from mainly immigrant backgrounds does not succeed in quelling their anger at their situation, validates Rawls’s argument. But the fact that economic disadvantage coincides with ethnic and religious difference means that simply equalizing primary goods would not overcome issues arising from lack of what philosophers term “recognition” (Fraser and Honneth. 2003).

Rawls opts for either a “property-owning democracy” (i.e. widely distributed ownership of productive assets) or liberal socialism as the basis for a “well-ordered society.” The question comes up again: how do we get there? What arguments can make people accept redistribution if they already know that they are in an advantaged position? It cannot be simply how it would feel to be in the other person’s place if we already know we are not. This is a particularly acute problem if those who are advantaged identify the disadvantaged as “other” in terms of ethnicity, religion, or color. There needs to be an argument based on collective good—social rationality—rather than simply individual rationality (as in Rousseau’s concept of the general will), even though it need not be a strictly utilitarian one. And, in practical terms, it must be backed by the force of social movement or a supportive elite.

Is it feasible to move toward this desired state (of property-owning democracy or liberal socialism) at the urban level? It would be easier if more goods that are controlled at the local level were universally publicly provided. For example, in London the Labour government has eliminated entrance and user fees for publicly owned facilities even while taxing cars that enter central London; we take the public library for granted—why should not other entertainment/and educational providers also offer free or very inexpensive services? (New York City is going in the opposite direction and has just introduced fees into formerly free recreation centers and during the 1975 fiscal crisis ended free tuition at the City University) The more that the whole society has a stake in collective goods, the more reform (“voice”) rather than exit will operate to maintain their quality for everyone (Hirschman 1970).

Under the property-owning democracy formulation, home ownership becomes a desirable goal and the “taking” of private homes for economic development purposes is wrong.7 Widespread home ownership makes available greater use values in housing for people, but it has the drawback of introducing a speculative financial element into the enjoyment of shelter as well as being inappropriate for households that do not have the resources to cope with system breakdowns or even routine maintenance.8 We can, however, look to the examples of Amsterdam and Stockholm, where public ownership of land does not inhibit private development of structures but retains increases in land value for the public and makes renting a good choice for many. Even in New York City the World Trade Center and Battery Park City sites are publicly owned and the owners of structures pay land rent (although this situation did not save the Bronx Terminal Market merchants).

Growth, Equity, and Diversity

The most politicized urban issues usually revolve around a conflict between the goals of growth and equity. There is a tendency among critics of redevelopment programs to regard growth as a negative aim—ecologically damaging, with its benefits going to the already affluent. But the benefits of growth would be more widely distributed if ownership were less concentrated, as in the property-owning democracy model.

I.M. Young starts with social institutions rather than individuals in her analyses. She deals especially with the relationships between diversity and equality, distinctive cultural practice and social exchange, difference and integration. In Inclusion and Democracy (2000) she takes the position that more democracy will produce more equality, but she considers that the concept of deliberative democracy, as it is usually framed, is impractical in mass societies—it is too time consuming and requires face-to-face interaction. It is not clear, however, as to why her approach, which accepts conflict and irresolution, is more practical in terms of arriving at desirable substantive outcomes. And, in fact, it differs little from Habermas’s, who also speaks of decentered democracy.

Young (2000) argues for “differentiated solidarity” rather than integration—i.e. geographical groupings with fuzzy borders. Here she does identify a realistic approach to the issue of multiculturalism, which is somewhat at odds with Lefebvre’s right to the city and the criterion that public spaces should be highly heterogeneous. Efforts to force residential integration have too frequently been counter-productive—not just in terms of backlash but also in depriving groups of mechanisms for mutual support. Residential differentiation does not necessarily imply lack of mixing elsewhere—in public spaces, at work, in recreational areas, and at school. Cities need to be diverse in macro but not necessarily in the micro. There is criticism of Battery Park City as being a virtual gated community (Kohn 2004), yet anyone can in fact gain access to its open spaces (unlike the Bronx Zoo, which charges a steep admission fee despite its location in the heart of New York’s poorest borough). A far greater danger than public spaces with iconography that seems forbidding to some is homogeneous municipalities of rich, poor, and middle on the periphery, not separation within the city itself, as long as internal boundaries are porous. Every public space need not be used by a full range of inhabitants, but should also not keep people out.

Conservative values of order and efficiency may clash with those of equality and diversity. The left dismisses the former as supportive of privilege and legitimated through propaganda. (Sennett, Uses of Disorder; Foucault). But these are values that enjoy wide popular support and are essential to the functioning of society. Hobbes’s argument that maintenance of personal safety is the first duty of the sovereign cannot be dismissed as simply a rationalization for authoritarian rule. We need to find out how to interpret these conservative values in humanitarian ways whereby they do not suppress dissent, produce sterile environments or only benefit the rich, but we cannot simply disregard them.

In past work I have portrayed Amsterdam as providing an actual model of social justice. Recently its success has been questioned as result of decline in the Dutch welfare state, ethnic friction, and the tightening of rules for immigration (see Kraamer 2006). Still, it continues to support a great deal of social and political equality, diversity and integration, planning and economic growth. The Amsterdam case implies democratic procedures and just actions flow from situations where rough social justice already exists. While the criteria of social justice may transcend particular social contexts, its implementation requires that elements of realization be already present. Achievement of the just is a circular process, whereby the preexistence of equity begets sentiments in its favor, democratic habits produce popular participation, and diversity increases tolerance. The sobering lesson of present-day Amsterdam, however, shows that even virtuous circles can be destabilized and that disruption, as occurred with the assassination of Theo Van Gogh, can precipitate a chain of events that easily breeds intolerance and fear of difference. Moreover victims can also be victimizers.

Process and Outcome

When we think about planning for cities, we must realize that substance and procedure are inseparable. Open processes do not necessarily produce just outcomes. Proceeding from a situation lacking in supportive values to a more enlightened state presents baffling strategic problems, because mobilizing a force sufficient to overcome barriers to change demands a messianism that contravenes undistorted speech and can provoke fierce reaction. But, just as substance and procedure must be contemplated simultaneously, so must desirable end states and the forces to achieve them. If Amsterdam presents a rough image of a desirable urban model, strategies and normative emphases will differ in respect to reaching that goal depending on starting point.

In the United States distributional issues are especially salient because social citizenship has not yet been won (Marshall 1965). Justice requires dampening of sentiments based on group identity, greater commitment to common ends, and identification of institutions and policies that offer broadly appealing benefits. As is, in the US no broad-based media exist to communicate alternative approaches to questions raised by urban economic development, metropolitan inequalities, and environmental preservation. The inherently divisive character of identity politics cuts against the building of such institutions and therefore is largely self-defeating.

The historically most effective approach to urban political transformation in the United States used group identity to bolster unity toward greater ends than symbolic recognition. During the 1960s successful movements in the US were based in groups that shared racial, territorial, and client statuses (Fainstein and Fainstein 1974). This neighborhood base, with community control as its objective, has, however, lost its force as a consequence of immigration, gentrification, and racial integration of the civil service (Fainstein and Fainstein 1996). In the new century, however, effectiveness probably means organizing around work status when it overlaps with racial, immigrant or gender situation (living wage movements). Whereas the urban social movements of the past centered on collective consumption (Castells 1977), future movements need to address the organization of work as well as concerning themselves with the consumption issues of new types of workers. The changing nature of work calls for unions of temporary workers, household workers, and the self-employed rather than traditional organizing around the workplace. Such unions would have to emphasize their service role: job training and placement; establishment of benefit pools and portability of benefits; provision of legal services; credit unions and mortgage assistance. This also means continued organizing around affordable housing, but to be successful such programs would have to recognize the housing needs of the middle class, not simply call for assistance to the poorest. Narrowly targeted policies, however efficient, lack a sufficient constituency and seem unjust to those not benefiting.

Citizen participation’s importance also varies with context. In most European cities, there is no absolute material need on the American scale. Especially in France and Germany, the plea for citizen participation, negotiation, and a less authoritative government makes sense. Within this context a more transactional approach represents reform. In the US, where most cities are dominated ideologically as well as politically by business-led regimes and homeowner groups rather than public bureaucracies, individual citizen participation will not provide a path to social transformation even though it can block destructive projects. Urban citizen participation mainly involves participants demanding marginal changes in the status quo or benefits that respond to their narrowly defined interests.

The movement toward a normative vision of the city requires the development of counter-institutions capable of reframing issues in broad terms and of mobilizing organizational and financial resources to fight for their aims. Castells (2000, p. 390) doubts the usefulness of abstract conceptions of justice; he fears that visionary projects lead only to grief. But there is a need to persuade people to transcend their own narrow self-interest and realize that there are gains to be had from the collective enterprise. Such a mobilization depends on a widely felt sense of justice and sufficient threat from the bottom to induce redistribution as a rational response. Enough of the upper social strata needs to accept a moral code such that they do not resist and will even support, redistributional measures.

Thus, when thinking about just cities, we must think simultaneously about means and ends, social movement strategies and goals as well as appropriate public policy. In the past moves toward progressive ends have arisen from both popular demands and insulated bureaucracies (Flora and Heidenheimer 1987). We cannot know, ex ante, what will be the most fruitful source of change, but by continuing to converse about justice, we can make it central to the activity of planning. The very act of naming has power. If we constantly reiterate the call for a just city (as conservative forces forever refer to economic development and the Congress for the New Urbanism talk about smart growth and stopping sprawl), we change popular discourse and enlarge the boundaries of action. Changing the dialogue, so that demands for equity are no longer marginalized, would constitute a first step toward reversing the current tendency that excludes social justice form the aims of urban policy.

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1 Plans for London’s Thames Gateway and Manhattan’s West Side are unusual in the scope of their ambition.

2 Some state tax benefits will accrue to the developer as a consequence of the site’s location in an Empire State Development Zone. The state, however, was not an active participant in the decision-making process.

3 . Some urbanists have started to formulate ethical theories (inter alia, Sayer and Storper, Forester, Sennett), and some political theorists and philosophers have directly or indirectly concerned themselves with urban issues (inter alia, Fischer, Nussbaum, Young).

4 The work of David Harvey (2003,1992) particularly his discussion of Paris and his article analyzing the conflict over Tompkins Square Park, is an important exception to this generalization.

5 Iris Marion Young is unusual in having concerned herself specifically with urban questions, perhaps as a consequence of teaching for years within a planning program at the University of Pittsburgh.

6 Rawls (1971, p. 440) does state that self-respect is “perhaps the most important primary good.” One of the two components of self-respect is “finding our person and deeds appreciated and confirmed by others.”

7 The US Supreme Court ruled in the case of Kelo v. New London (June 23, 2005) that municipalities could use the power of eminent domain to take private property in order to turn it over to another private party in furtherance of the aim of economic development.

8 The US government’s emphasis on home ownership and its subsidization through the tax code are generally repudiated by progressives. But ownership increases people’s feelings of autonomy and protects them from exploitation by landlords. Limits on the size and use of the tax deduction, however, may be justified.

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