In the Press: Urban planning can help heal social injustices

Programme Type: Public Discourse Programme:

Cape Town – Some say apartheid is in the past and members of marginalised groups referencing apartheid for current social injustices they face are not fair.

However, if we look around us, systemic injustices are present in the landscape we live in and can be seen all around our city.

At UCT on Wednesday, Harvard University professor and urban planning consultant Toni Griffin spoke about urban planning and design to promote greater social and spatial justice. She said social injustice can be experienced in spaces that isolate individuals and where diversity in decision-making stages is lacking.

“The reality of urban injustice is something real in the Cape Town community. We form communities with people who are like-minded and we don’t always recognise that by doing that, it can be exclusionary.

“The work we do as designers and planners is essential to achieving the outcome we want. We (analyse how) we achieve justice through the processes of decision-making. Who has the rights to the city?”

Griffin said decision-making by designers and architects needed to be interrogated as to whether it’s democratic, diverse and includes the values the society hopes to achieve. However, all spaces and environments had their own unique design requirements.

She said we need to start with equity among those who are worst off in society before we can get to a place of creating equality.

Griffin said marginalised communities created physical and social separation of groups and deepened the sense of isolation these groups felt.

She said the isolation of a person who never left their physical environment made them unable to understand how other communities function.

This prevented them from envisioning change.

“We as planners take vision for granted. We ask people to envision something they’re not able to do yet, because we haven’t exposed them to it. To learn other possibilities is something we often take for granted that people can do.

“But if this has been your only existence, and your parents’ and grandparents’ existence, how am I going to ask you to think of something different? There is not always equal playing fields. So how do I create cities for everyone?”

Griffin said an inclusive city could be created by having everyone exposed to the fact that design and decision-making impact justice. Communities should have their own conversation on what it means to be just and create values that the inclusive city hopes to achieve.

She said values for a just society would change depending on where in time the society was and the moment society was in pursuit of. This would influence planning.

Griffin said Cape Town was likely to have a different set of principles from Johannesburg as it strove to attain different values.

This article by Athina May was first published on 7 June 2018 in the Cape Argus. 

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