In Search of the ‘Just City’

By on July 10, 2018

From CityLab:  The Chouteau Greenway competition in St. Louis called for proposals for an urban design project that would connect the 1,371-acre Forest Park, in the city’s west quarters, to the city’s famous Gateway Arch, on the city’s east edge by the Mississippi River. This line acts as an equator of sorts for St. Louis, dividing the city in half, and also by race and income—whiter and wealthier neighborhoods are located south of it; mostly African-American and less-wealthy communities to its north. This was a line worth crossing out, thought Toni Griffin, who, as part of the Stoss Landscape Urbanism design team, submitted a proposal that includes streets and pathways that criss-cross north and south across the east-west greenway corridor path, as a way of connecting historically marginalized locales to neighborhoods.

While the jury for the competition stated that the “focus of the Chouteau Greenway project should be the main east/west connection,” Griffin was concerned that that kind of focus might only calcify the city’s dividing line and further entrench the inequities above and below it. The jury, in assessing her team’s project, considered the north-south ribbons a weakness of the proposal, but still picked it over three other entries as winner of the competition. Griffin’s team is now the lead designer for the greenway project.

As an urban planning professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, specializing in spatial and racial justice, Griffin is well aware of the historical role of design in perpetuating segregation in U.S. cities. She also knows St. Louis, a city already made infamous by its pioneering of red-lining policies, could not afford to now become a pioneer in green-lining—using a greenway to reinforce the line separating the city. Griffin’s disruptive approach to the Greenway project criteria is consistent with her ideas around designing “just cities”—a concept she’s been developing since she was a Loeb fellow at Harvard in 1997.

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