Our programme was built around three core concepts: coproduction, justice, and urban transformation. We are motivated to understand the strengths and limits in how we produce knowledge about and for cities to affect progressive urban change. We want to move beyond critique of what is wrong with our cities to making positive, albeit modest contributions, to more sustainable urban futures.
Coproduction means a more equal relationship between research and practice and between citizens and state. It means recognising that we all have different expertise; we all have roles to play in contributing to the production of knowledge for social change. Coproduction is argued to be both necessary and desirable. It is necessary because complex urban issues can only be addressed by combining different people’s expertise and skills. It is desirable because it offers the promise of greater democratisation in research and in urban governance. We are interested in learning by doing about the strengths and limits of coproduction as a way to realise more just cities.
Ideas that get traction link theory with action (Marcuse 2012)
Cities are a key site for both producing and struggling against injustice. Our understanding of justice is based on three pillars:
- Procedural justice: who decides? A just city is characterised by more inclusive decision-making processes - from setting agendas to allocating resources and delivering policies. It means the right to participate in institutions, processes and planning about and for cities.
- Epistemic justice: whose knowledge matters? A just city values different voices and perspectives. It means the right to be heard and recognised as having specific expertise to contribute to urban issues.
- Distributive justice: who benefits? A just city prioritises the needs of the vulnerable and marginalised in different urban communities. It means the right to have basic needs met: housing, health, safety and food, for instance.
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 (Friedmann 2002).
Cities offer both opportunities and threats. Many are concerned with symptoms of mounting urban crisis including urban inequality and advanced marginality, deteriorating living conditions, civil unrest, unemployment, homelessness, economic insecurity and resource scarcity. There are chronic stresses that city administrations must manage and acute shocks, such as natural and humanitarian disasters or terrorist attacks.
The battle for sustainable urban development will be won or lost in cities … there is a need for a radical paradigm shift in the way cities and human settlements are planned, developed, governed and managed (The New Urban Agenda, Habitat 2016).
We need to pay attention to processes of urban transformation: we know what needs to be done, but how can we create different pathways to achieve more sustainable urban change? Our work focuses on the actors, processes and spaces of urban change.
Just Urban Research?, written and narrated by Professor Beth Perry