Planning for Justice

Resources for built environment practitioners fostering more equal, healthy and sustainable places.

Picture taken during a BLM protest in London, source: Planning for Justice

This year, the Black Lives Matter movement enabled our society to rethink and focus on the politics of public space, still dominated by symbols of our colonial past. The history of urban planning has not always reflected equity for less powerful groups. Rather it has often reinforced the status quo, injustice, and spatial segregation. As Neely and Samura claimed, “a spatial perspective can provide particularly useful lens and language for locating and understanding persistent racial processes” (2011: 1934)[1]. Indeed, “echoes from London and Berlin to Tokyo and Seoul continue to spotlight the workings of institutional racism in different national contexts. All of this has unfolded against the backdrop of a coronavirus pandemic that is disproportionately devastating the world’s most vulnerable” (2020)[2].

As the global reckoning with systemic racism was generated by the historic wave of protests in response to the disproportionate[3], increasingly televised and often unjustified shootings of Black Americans by police[4], Planning for Justice emerged in the summer of 2020 as a coalition of graduate students, alumni and faculty in Regional and Urban Planning Studies at the London School of Economics. The coalition was built on the recognition of an immediate need to acknowledge our past and establish long term strategies involving an equal representation of communities in the co-creation of places. The effort resulted in collaborative and multidisciplinary digital library of both accessible articles and academic material, to offer planners, community groups and the general public information and inspiration on how to design more just cities.

The group, led by Associate Professor Nancy Holman (London School of Economics), explained how “structural racism is ingrained into urban policy throughout the globe—and likewise within the academic and professional institutions that dominate our field. As benefactors, we can educate ourselves and use positions of power to champion redistributive justice”.

Katie Mulkowsky, graduate in Regional and Urban Planning Studies at the London School of Economics who first envisioned the idea of crafting a digital library collecting literature on the interplay between race and space to rethink the role of urban planning, reported that:

 “Planning for Justice began as a collaborative, open-source document that gathered accessible articles, academic work and action items relevant to the events of the summer. As new incidents of police brutality in America sparked reckonings with institutional racism throughout my country and the wider world, I began reflecting on the role that urban planning has historically played in producing systemic inequalities everywhere. From post-apartheid South Africa to the boroughs of East London, the disciplining of space has long been wielded as an explicit device of power that narrates access to basic resources and economic opportunities. After building a team at the London School of Economics, we therefore worked throughout the summer and fall of 2020 to digitise a resource library and launch a blog that fosters reflection on the questions of socio-spatial exclusion which are relevant to the contexts that our students come from. These issues do not map onto every city in the same way, but we hope that dialogue across places can reveal common problems and foster creative solutions”.

Hence, the built environment has often embodied a spatial representation of structural inequalities that clearly manifested in housing[5] and transport policies[6], as well as the politics of public space[7]. Those inequalities have never been racially neutral. Therefore, the urban planning profession, which often induced community’ segregation, promoting redlining and divided cities grounded on social and racial injustice, has now to openly commit to fostering more equal, healthy and sustainable places.

Therefore, Planning for Justice has the main goal of expanding its digital library as a democratic tool for learning and advocacy. Additionally, Planning for Justice is building a team of collaborators from urban institutions and civic organisations in cities around the world. The scope is elevating the voices of community groups and social justice advocates who have long been encouraging more inclusive public commons. Planning for Justice is explicitly committed to anti-racist planning efforts and aim to disrupt legacies of uneven development through scholarship, dialogue and the promotion of progressive projects, welcoming multimedia and creative work.

Planning for justice has also started its public blog to make space for new reflections that you can access here: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/progressingplanning/planning-for-justice/

Use this submission link if you want to help Planning for Justice expanding its digital library and follow the project on Twitter and Instagram at @planningjustice for more.


[1] Neely, B. and Michelle S. (2011), Social Geographies of Race: Connecting race and space, Ethnic and Racial Studies 34(11), pp.1933–1952

[2] Planning for Justice blog, accessible at https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/progressingplanning/more-on-planning-for-justice/ 

[3] Peeples, L. (2020). “What the data say about police brutality and racial bias — and which reforms might work” Nature, London, 19 June. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01846-z

[4] DeGue, Fowler and Calkins reported how blacks were significantly more likely to be unarmed and pose no threat in contrast to whites. More at: DeGue, S., Fowler, K.A. and Cynthia Calkins (2016) “Deaths due to use of lethal force by law enforcement: Findings from the National Violent Death Reporting System, 17 U.S. States, 2009-2012”. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. 51(5 Suppl 3):S173-S187, doi:10.1016/j-amepre.2016.08.027. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6080222/.

[5] Rothstein, R. (2020), The Neighborhoods We Will Not Share, The New York Times, Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/20/opinion/fair-housing-act-trump.html

[6] Grisby, D. (2020), To Fight Racism,Transit Has a Key Role, CityLab, Available at: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-20/the-powerful-role-transit-plays-in-racial-justice

[7] Crawford, A., Ritchie, G. and V. Vaghela (2020), The City of London Has a Slavery Problem, CityLab, Available at: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2020-06-24/the-city-of-london-has-a-slavery-problem