Thomas Hartmann, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University; 

Claudia Basta, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University;

Roberto RoccoFaculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology;



How does a ‘just’ city look like, and what would be the right way to plan it, when considering the many competing ideas on what justice is? Jane Jacobs had very clear ideas regarding these distinct questions: her profound belief was that what a rational-comprehensive approach to urban planning tends to envision as the ‘right’ plan, endangers the ability of the informal dynamics among social fabrics and urban spaces to generate the beauty, and value, that planners ought to enhance and preserve.

Ever since, ideas of the just city have been promoted in literature. However, a multiplicity of conceptions of justice continues to inhabit the city as much as the scholarly community that gravitates around it. An idea of ‘just city’ implies endorsing explicit evaluative criteria; for example, the equal accessibility to urban resources, or the equality of ‘human functionings’ achievable in and through those resources (Basta, 2015). Cities, though, are wicked, polyrational (Davy 2008) and clumsy (Hartmann 2012) realities in which the interaction between people and spaces generates sentiments, and meanings, which escape the rational evaluation of the ‘justness’, or ‘goodness’, of spatial interventions.

Jane Jacob’s underlying idea of the just city was of urban spaces ‘owned’, symbolically but also materially, by the people who contribute to co-create them.  This idea seems to coincide with Lefebvre’s idea on the “right to the city”, that is, everybody’s right to ‘appropriate’ urban space and to participate in its transformation (Purcell, 2002), but also with liberal views on cities as places wherein the private and the public spheres co-exist up to form an indivisible unit (Moroni and Chiodelli, 2014).

Despite their evident differences, what all these ideas have in common is being informed by underlying, albeit distinct, conceptions of justice and equality; for example, a libertarian, utilitarian, liberal or materialistic conception. How can these ideas co-exist with Jacobs’s legacy? What has changed, or on the contrary remained intact, after Jacobs’s seminal reflection on cities, citizens, and justice?

These questions are central not only for architecture and urban geography, but also for urban planning. In this session, we invite contributions that explore the tensions between different conceptions of the just city which may challenge, or revive further, Jacob’s inspirational legacy.


Basta, C. (2015) From justice in planning toward planning for justice: A capability approach. Planning Theory. Online first.DOI:10.1177/1473095215571399

Davy, B. (2008). Plan it without a condom! Planning Theory, 7(3), 301–317.

Hartmann, T. (2012). Wicked problems and clumsy solutions. Planning Theory, 11(3), 242–256

Moroni S. and Chiodelli F. (2014) Public spaces, private spaces, and the right to the city. International Journal of E-Planning Research 3(1) 51-65

Purcell, M. (2002). “Excavating Lefebvre: The right to the city and its urban politics of the inhabitant.” GeoJournal 58: 99-108.