Five things a perfect city needs: 1. Spatial Justice

A while ago I was asked to tweet my ‘five things a perfect city needs’ and came up with the following:

1. Spatial Justice
2. Sociable Streets
3. Entrepreneurship
4. Walkability
5. Diversity of ages, uses and cultures.

Aaron Landsman ( asked me how policy might play a role in shaping such a city. The following series of short blog posts is my take on an answer to that question.

1. Spatial Justice


When I talk to my students on the MSc/MRes Spatial Design about spatial justice, I propose that the role of the city is to shape social diversity. When it is done well, we get vibrant, eclectic collections of people from different parts of the country (or the world), whose intermingling is the essence of urbanity. When it is done badly, we get into situations of segregation and ghettoisation.

Ed Soja argues in ‘Spatial Justice’ that space itself can influence the justice/injustice of society. He discusses how cities such as Los Angeles, who had opportunities in the past to distribute access to resources equitably, chose the route that results today in a mass transit system that is more likely to serve the rich than the poor (who arguably need it more too).

Carl H. Nightingale has also shown how early 19th century Algiers was transformed by the creation of a European open street grid alongside the existing inward-facing courtyards and alleyways of the Casbah and the result was a spatial-racial division between native and incoming peoples that evolved over time: The coexistence of grids of unequal accessibility led to the Casbah to become increasingly separated over time: segregation can be an emergent process and unequal access to the functional heart of a city can be worse if you lack in access to motorised transport, whether public or private.

Whilst the essential role of the city is to bring together and to organise diversity, this isn’t a random mixing of uses, cultures or economies; it is structured system of interdependence between different uses, cultures, classes and so on and the essential distinctiveness of cities lies is in their ability to accommodate difference. The way in which diversity is structured is essentially to do with how cities are formed and how their intrinsic nature is shaped over time.

This argument is laid out in full in Is the Future of Cities the Same as Their Past?, Urban Pamphleteer #1: Future and Smart Cities, 1, 20-22.

The image above shows exterior view of the storefront office of P. Schiavone & Son, bankers and steamship agents, located at 925 South Halsted Street (formerly 388 South Halsted Street) in the Near West Side community area of Chicago, Illinois, 1909. DN-0054031 (Accessed at [1]), Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago Historical Society.

Author: (sub)urbanite

Professor of Urban Form and Society and Director of the Space Syntax Lab, Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. Online in a personal capacity.

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