Realising Just Cities Framework

An International Collaborative Framework 2016-2019

Across the world it is increasingly being recognised that urban areas face a range of complex challenges. Acknowledging ongoing injustices in cities everywhere as a crucial impediment to urban sustainability, the research agenda of Mistra Urban Futures is guided by the collaborative framework of Realising Just Cities, towards achieving the Centre’s Vision of “Sustainable urbanisation where cities are accessible, green and fair”.

What is a Just City?

As John Friedmann wrote in 2002 in The Prospect of Cities, ‘If injustice is to be corrected … we will need the concrete imagery of utopian thinking to propose steps that would bring us a little closer to a more just world’. For Mistra Urban Futures, realising just cities encompasses developing urban areas that fair, green and accessible as the core characteristics of sustainability.

Cities are a key site of the struggle against injustice. Just cities are cities giving everyone living in them the same opportunities and rights. It also entails a fair distribution of resources and the opportunities to use them. This could be everything from food to health services and public spaces, as well as access to social networks. It is also the notion of the right to the city, covering aspects as the right to own and use property, the right to information and participation in different governing and decision-making processes. 

The comparative project, Realising Just Cities, further explores what just cities should look like, what the practical steps we can take towards trying to achieve them are, and what the impact of these steps are. 

Challenges in Realising Just Cities

How to realise just cities is more complicated. There are several profound obstacles standing in the way of achieving the utopian image. Governance and decision-making processes are one aspect, policy and litigation are others. The legal system can, for example, be pushed to a more progressive agenda. Strengthening civil society and creating public engagement through public participation and co-creation mechanisms are also of importance. Spatial transformations are also necessary, changing how the urban built environment is designed, for example public spaces and streets or whole neighbourhoods. Key elements are accessibility to efficient and affordable integrated public transport, and designing multifunctional urban areas that provide residential, employment and services in close proximity, thereby reducing the need for constant travel.

International Comparative Projects

An ambitious and path-breaking feature of Mistra Urban Futures’ current research agenda is a series of comparative projects across the local platforms in Gothenburg, Skåne and Stockholm in Sweden, Sheffield-Manchester in the UK, Kisumu, Kenya and Cape Town in South Africa. 

In essence, we are using our distinctive set of transdisciplinary research platforms in mostly secondary/intermediate cities in diverse socio-economic, environmental and geopolitical contexts straddling the conventional North – South divide to help understand better what sustainable and just cities mean in different contexts and how we can work toward making the concept a reality. 

The respective projects are not comparing identical interventions in the respective cities, since each one is different, having been defined and designed to meet local needs and priorities. Instead, it is the respective research processes within each thematic area that are being studied: the drivers, challenges, bottlenecks, stalemate-breaking procedures, achievements, outputs and outcomes, in order to distil generalizable principles of good practice. These provide the basis for mutual learning and improvements to practice, and also for influencing global debates and practices. This is the first time that such comparative research using co-creation/co-production methodologies has been attempted anywhere in the world.

The comparative projects are:

Realising Just Cities
Implementation of the New Urban Agenda and Urban Sustainable Development Goal
Cultural Heritage and Just Cities
Food Value Chain
Transportation and Urban Development
Participatory Cities
Migration and Urban Development
Neighbourhood transformation and housing justice
Solid Waste Management
Knowledge Exchange

The comparative projects target a range of different Sustainable Development Goals - SDG:s. 

Comparative projects and SDG

Local projects 

The comparative projects are complemented by local activities at the various platforms, recognising the differences between the cities. These are essential from both intellectual and practical knowledge co-production points view. It is also where much of the actual research is undertaken. See our Project overview.