What is it about?

But to what extent are urban design theories centrally concerned with justice in the city? In this chapter, we examine the key theoretical developments in urban design scholarship over the last 120 years to understand this. We identify thirty-one classic books that have influenced and continue to influence built environment processes and outcomes and urban design pedagogy worldwide. We ask: Did the foremost urban design thinkers concern their theories and visions with equity and justice issues? If so, how did they incorporate notions of justice into urban design? Was justice envisioned through top-down or bottom-up design? Was it outcome- or process-oriented, or something else?

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Why is it important?

We find that theories of urban design rarely focus on justice and that the attention given to justice in urban design scholarship is often cursory. Only two out of the thirty-one reviewed books explicitly focus on multiple justice domains. Four other texts focus on at least one domain of justice explicitly. To be fair, several urban design texts consider an area of justice implicitly, particularly interactional justice. However, the texts are significantly deficient in discussing recognitional aspects of justice explicitly or implicitly. Ten books do not discuss any domain of justice at all. Collectively, these texts suggest that justice is not particularly important to urban designers. In this chapter, we first develop our framework for analyzing justice in urban design scholarship. Next, we identify important urban design texts for analysis and explain how we selected them. In the subsequent section, we share our research and findings. We conclude with a reiteration of the chapter’s main arguments. By identifying notions of justice present (or absent) in the prevailing theories of urban design, we argue for a broadening of the urban design discourse to become more diverse, inclusive, and sharply focused on justice in the city.


In this chapter, we develop an operational justice framework (i.e., distributive, procedural, interactional, and recognitional) to explore whether canonical urban design texts—books from the last 120 years taught in urban design theory and studio courses—foreground justice as a central consideration in processes and outcomes of shaping the built environment. We find that most texts do not consider justice explicitly and we argue for expanding the urban design canon through our framework to explicitly focus on justice in the city. In so doing, the design of the public realm will always consider economic and spatial redistribution, social group representation and vocalization in design workshops, fair treatment in the production and use of cities, and inclusion of cultural claims and recognition of difference in public spaces for underrepresented groups such as persons experiencing homelessness, indigenous communities, communities of color, and the LGBTQIA+ community, among others.

Christopher Giamarino

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This page is a summary of: Just Urban Design Scholarship?: Examining Urban Design Theories Through a Justice Lens, November 2022, The MIT Press, DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/13982.003.0006.
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