Taking up social and spatial equity in New York, “Design and the Just City” exhibition lands at AIA’s Center for Architecture

"Design and the Just City" on view in the GSD's Frances Loeb Library, April 2018

“Design and the Just City,” an exhibition curated by the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Toni L. Griffin and her Just City Lab at the GSD, arrives at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Center for Architecture this month with fresh observations on social and spatial justice in New York. The exhibition debuted in the GSD’s Frances Loeb Library as part of the Spring 2018 exhibitions program. With a New York-focused twist, “Design and the Just City in NYC” is now on view at the AIA’s Center for Architecture through March 30, with a launch event on Thursday, January 10.

Like Griffin’s Just City Lab, “Design and the Just City in NYC” interrogates how design and planning contribute to the conditions of justice and injustice in cities, neighborhoods, and the public realm, and asks whether design can have an impact on correcting urban injustice, inequality, and disparity. Through ongoing research and dialogue, the Just City Lab has developed a series of tools for assessing and engaging with social and spatial justice issues, and these observations form the heart of “Design and the Just City in NYC.” Learn more about Design Labs at the GSD.

“There is growing interest among design and planning professionals and students to address issues of social and spatial injustice and disparity,” said Griffin. “Our team of student research assistants at the GSD are creating platforms for dialogue and profiles of practice that we hope prove the possibility of dismantling injustice.”

At the exhibition’s core is the Just City Index, a guide offering an itemization of 50 city- and community-building values and indicators—along them, acceptance, choice, democracy, mobility, and resilience—and a breakdown of the various definitions and approaches to fostering each value. Below, see photos from the exhibition’s GSD installation, and from the exhibition’s January 10 launch at the AIA Center for Architecture.

“Design and the Just City in NYC” also presents case studies and video conversations with a variety of voices, inviting visitors to contemplate the intention and effectiveness of design practice to address issues of social and spatial justice. In addition, an interactive map will invite visitors to determine what values they most associate with their neighborhoods, allowing them to plot collective manifestos for what might constitute a “just city.”

“‘Design and the Just City in NYC’ resonates with AIA New York’s 2019 presidential theme, BUILDING COMMUNITY, which asks members and professionals how they can contribute to communities inside and outside the profession. To this end, we are pleased to work with Professor Toni Griffin and her students from Harvard GSD, who have expanded their research to present a range of NYC projects,” said Benjamin Prosky, Assoc. AIA, Executive Director, AIA New York | Center for Architecture. “We are eager to share this work with our extended community as they continue to express interest in better understanding how design interventions can promote equity, especially at a time when cities have become places of extreme privilege and extreme poverty.”

For its Center for Architecture installation, the exhibition takes up five case studies in New York:

• D15 Diversity Plan, led by WXY, a community-based effort to make schools in Brooklyn’s District 15 more diverse and integrated

• Justice in Design, led by the Van Alen Institute, a plan to develop healthier and more rehabilitative jail infrastructure

• Center for Living and Learning, led by Perkins Eastman, which transformed an underutilized space into a community-driven, mixed-use space

• Under the Elevated, led by the Design Trust for Public Space, an initiative that reclaims spaces beneath high infrastructure for the public

• Public Life and Urban Justice in NYC Plazas, led by Gehl Studio, the J. Max Bond Center at Spitzer School of Architecture CCNY, and Transportation Alternatives, offering a study that evaluates effective public life and social justice in public space through a framework of metrics.

To learn more about “Design and the Just City in NYC,” visit the AIA’s website, and to learn more about Griffin’s Just City Lab, visit the lab’s website.

“Design and the Just City in NYC” on view at the AIA’s Center for Architecture: