Fainstein, S. (2010). _The Just City_. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

Susan Fainstein received her PhD in Political Science from MIT and is Professor in Urban Planning at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and Kennedy School. She has taught at Columbia and Rutgers Universities, and has been a visiting professor at the University of Amsterdam and the University of Witwatersrand. Her research focuses on comparative urban policy, planning theory, and urban redevelopment. Her books include: The Just City; The City Builders: Property, Politics, and Planning in London and New York; Restructuring the City; and Urban Political Movements. She’s also coedited pieces on urban tourism, gender and planning, planning theory, and urban theory.

In this book, Fainstein develops an urban theory of justice and uses it to asses extant and potential programs and institutions. Building on Rawls’ concept of justice as fairness, she proposes a just city exhibits equity, democracy, and diversity. Moreover, the justice criterion “requires the policy maker to ask, efficiency or effectiveness to what end?” (9). This book is a proposal for “realistic utopianism,” wherein she advocates for Sen’s (1992, 1999) and Nussbaum’s (2000) respective capabilities theory view. Following Nussbaum’s threshold level of capabilities, Fainstein upholds this metric: the “potential to ‘live as a dignified free human being who shapes his or her own life'” (as cited on 166). She also proposes Fraser’s (2003) “nonreformist reforms” approach affirming, like Castells (1983), that cities are the sites for collective consumption. She frames effective social movements as just urban policies and argues they do have transformative potential despite their local scale.

Fainstein then asks, What makes up a just Western city? She looks at New York’s, London’s, and Amsterdam’s respective post-1970 policies, and judges them in ascending order of justness. All are ambivalent in that they suffer from downward trends, but Amsterdam “remains exemplary” (164). Most fascinating to me were her extensive literature reviews, which she uses to justify her formulation of “justice.” To wit, her preference for a universal, substantive theory of justice over either the epistemological approach or communicative planning theory / deliberative democracy; examining “equity” as it’s held in liberal theory, Marxian theory; recognition, diversity, and difference as regarded in economism and Poststructuralism (along with a critique of each); and finally, the inherent tensions among democracy, equity, and diversity. These tensions are most acute in housing provision and urban regeneration and so she concludes with a list of prescriptions for just urban policy.


  1. All new housing developments should have some affordable housing associated, either on-site or at another location.
  2. Affordable housing units should remain so in perpetuity.
  3. Relocation of housing or businesses should be done only in “exceptional [economic development or community development] circumstances” (172). New housing should be an improvement and neighborhood reconstruction should be incremental.
  4. Economic development programs should privilege independent, local business, and the commercial development sites should have dedicated public space.
  5. Megaprojects should be scrutinized heavily; living wage, public amenities, etc. should be part of the project.
  6. Intracity transit prices should be subsidized to stay low. (This doesn’t apply to commuter rails.)
  7. “Planners should take an active role in deliberative settings in pressing for egalitarian solutions and blocking ones that disproportionately benefit the already well-off” (173).


  1. Households shouldn’t be relocated for diversity just as no communities should be conceived and built to segregate.
  2. Zoning policies shouldn’t proscribe but incorporate.
  3. Districts should have penetrable boundaries.
  4. Public space should be plentiful and privately owned public space (POPS) should remain democratic, allowing for free speech. Still, discordant cultures “should not have to occupy the same location” (174).
  5. Land uses should be mixed in a practical, beneficial manner.
  6. Public agencies should privilege the needs of the historically discriminated against.


  1. Groups unable to participate should have advocates in decision-making processes.
  2. Affected groups should be consulted regarding the development of new plans. However, theirs is not the only governing body — “Citywide considerations must also apply” (175).
  3. The planning of predominately undeveloped land should should include all affected groups.

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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Planning Theory, Research Fields


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