Susan S. Fainstein


On her book The Just City

Cover Interview of February 15, 2011

In a nutshell

For more than 30 years, cities in America and Europe have moved toward greater inequality—in line with the ideology of neo-liberalism, which urges privatization, limits on social welfare, and low taxation.

Competition for resources—space, public office, economic goods, housing, group privileges, etc.—plays itself out within an ideological context emphasizing growth over social justice.  And urban public policy has increasingly shifted from housekeeping and social service emphases to entrepreneurial efforts to foster growth.

In The Just City I use both deductive and inductive methods to argue for a normative framework that would change the criteria for evaluating urban policy.  The book’s aim is to apply arguments about justice developed by contemporary philosophers to the concrete problems faced by urban planners and policy makers.

In the first part, I discuss the theories of John Rawls, Martha Nussbaum, Iris Marion Young, Nancy Fraser, and other philosophers who focus on the meaning of justice.  I use these theories to develop an approach to justice relevant to 21st century cities in Europe and the United States, and to defend giving priority to justice in urban policy.

This discussion of justice is then examined in relation to the practical realities of urban planning and policy making—within cities’ national and global contexts, processes of social exclusion, governance issues, and conflicts within and variation among places.

From this discussion I then derive a set of broad principles by which to evaluate urban programs in the cities of the United States and Europe.  The book’s second part examines three cities—New York, London, and Amsterdam—in relation to these principles.

In conclusion, I specify a program and urban policy recommendations that can further justice within the context of a capitalist city.