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Third International Conference

Discussing New Urban Languages of Equality, Justice and Sustainable Development 

Architects, urbanists, designers and planners often dodge issues of democracy, justice and redistribution and concentrate instead on the technical or aesthetic aspects of their activities. This is not acceptable. Justice and fairness in urban development must be continuously and critically discussed, or else we risk failing to meet the social dimension of sustainability. This is described by Larsen (2012), among others, for whom “for sustainability to occur, it must occur simultaneously in each of its three dimensions: economic, social and environmental”.

But spatial interventions, plans and designs do not happen in a vacuum. They happen in real governance structures, in which there are power struggles, disagreement and continuous negotiation. In short, urbanism happens in political arenas.

Designing and planning the built environment are profoundly political activities. There are no purely value-free or ‘technical’ solutions for spatial problems: all decisions in spatial development are political decisions insofar they must involve choice, negotiation, friction and divergence, and occasionally agreement that enables action. This is also known as politics. Spatial planners and designers have a highly central role in achieving justice, as shapers of innovative spatial and institutional relationships between civil society, the public sector and the private sector and designers of sustainable structures and processes. Cities and regions that are socially, economically and environmentally sustainable and fair are not a “given”, they are an achievement.

The recent financial crisis has highlighted at least one convergence: cities all over the world are becoming more unequal and socially and spatially fragmented, even in the developed world. This is very bad news, as it is widely accepted that economic growth alone is not enough to promote well-being: equity is important too. There is plenty of data showing correlation between inequality in a society and economic success. And more evidence showing that inequality is socially and economically unsustainable in the long run. But we must leave the dry world of statistics and try to understand inequality where it happens: in space. In order to advance the discussion, we need to explore some key issues of spatial inequality and its antidote: spatial justice.

In this conference, we want to explore the concept of spatial justice and its implications for urban planners and designers. We also wish to understand in which ways we can describe, imagine and represent spatial justice, in a time in which the representation of reality can be used to distort, embellish, and falsify it.


Roberto Rocco, Department of Urbanism, TU Delft

Rossella Salerno, Department of Architecture and Urban Studies, Politecnico di Milano
Daniele Villa Department of Architecture and Urban Studies, Politecnico di Milano
Frank Eckardt, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar
Javier Ruiz Sanchez Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Grupo de investigación: Paisaje Cultural. Intervenciones contemporáneas en la ciudad y el territorio

Committee assistants: Atousa Marzban and Magdalena Zalewska, Politecnico di Milano

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