???for What Can Be Imagined More Beautiful Than the Sight of a Perfectly Just City Rejoicing in Justice Alone ??? Discuss.
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A city rejoicing in justice alone is indeed beautiful in its simplistic idealism. However the beauty of this sentence and of the ideal, masks the complexity of the concept of justice and of the city, and all it embodies. The city according to Soja (1989) is where ???it all comes together???. One globally recognizable feature of contemporary cities is the phenomenon of social polarization, which explains the specific social differentiations and inequities apparent in many cities. ???The term is specifically used to describe the trend in which an increasing disparity has been seen to emerge between an expanded and more diversely constituted ???underclass??™ and more affluent groups??? (Jacobs and Fincher 1998). Such disparities have manifested themselves in various forms across the city, which presents a clear depiction of inequality which largely implied injustice. A key question is thus: ???Can the political objective of equity be reconciled with the notion of cities of difference [or] Does producing equity require that difference be obliterated in the name of justice??? (Jacobs 1991).
The title is a quote from Mark Helprin??™s ???A Winter??™s Tale???, a tale about justice in fictional New York City. Benjamin De Mott??™s literary review in the New York Times, states that ???the obligation, as spelled out in Winters Tale, is to shed indifference and apathy, to realize the suffering through which one walks – the suffering of small children living and dying like beasts,??? in response to which the main character cries out, yet is met by the questioning of the fundamental meaning of justice:
Who said that justice is what you imagine Can you be sure that you know it when you see it, that you will live long enough to recognize the decisive thunder of its occurrence, that it can be manifest within a generation, within ten generations, within the entire span of human existence
It is thus virtually impossible to prescribe the conditions necessary for a ???perfectly just city??™. What is possible is normatively describing what is unjust. The main character, Peter Lake, is thrust into ???a box of fire??™ ??“ a metaphor of the city, where the entire population . . . rushed about here and there, venting their passions – struggling, kicking, and shuddering like marionettes. Such a description implies that injustice in this city is rampant; even the main character??™s main profession is Burglary, yet he is on a life??™s quest to attain justice that exists yet ???cannot be had without mystery???.
Inequality and poverty bread violence, gangs and warfare. In the novel, a gang called the Short Tails plays a vital role. ???Violence is not a spontaneous phenomenon but, above all, the product of a society characterized by inequality and social exclusion??? (Vanderschueren 1996). According to Vanderschueren , at least once every five years, 60 per cent of those living in cities with 100,000 or more inhabitants are victims of one form of crime or another. Usually the offender has been encouraged by a social environment that idealises consumerism, competition and a mass media which propagates and legitimizes violence:
???In a society that promotes consumption to the detriment of sharing, and unbridled competition at the expense of solidarity, young people with no hope of employment or success look for ways to gain a sense of achievement and recognition, if not from society then at least from their peer group. This often leads to or involves violence.???
The fragmentation and anonymity of city dwellers, as well as the high density and population of cities, makes crime more visible, creating a sense of insecurity that engenders distrust, intolerance, the withdrawal of individuals from community life. Thus the violence and crime that inequality breeds contributes to the disintegration of the social fabric and slows down economic development. Moreover within any city or city district with high rates of crime and thus injustice, public areas are used less and less, businesses fail, the value of property falls, services deteriorate, residents move more frequently and tourism declines. These factors, in turn, further undermine the cohesion of communities and seriously damage informal mechanisms of social control- which were considered in the 19th century to be vital.
Helprin??™s depiction of the richer side of New York is one that has transcended beyond material and profit-driven values towards humanity and solidarity- values which are lacking in a capitalist world. Family values, social interaction and disregard for profit-making activities are what Helprin??™s New York prides itself on. Here New York is a sparkling snow-and-ice palace where people take to the river ice and reorder their ???sacred??™ spaces: ???Skaters glided from place to place, losing track of time and disappearing for days into the cities of the snowbanks. Whole families went there to sleep in the snow rooms, eat roasted meats on tiny skewers, and take part in the ice races — only to realize that they had been gone for days at a time, and that all their appointments had been violently broken.??? Rampant injustice however, damages the superior values as the shining palace is contrasted to the city of the poor where people suffered and endured their days amidst ???men whose hands warmed knives and guns.??? Like Engel??™s description of the hovels of the poor in nineteenth century Manchester, the city of the poor was characterized by smoke and separated in a way which one may never have to encounter the world of the other. Moreover the hovels of the poor were rife with disease due to poor, overcrowded and insanitary conditions. What is relevant is that even the rich cannot escape the repercussions of disease which spread through natural mediums which the rich and the poor are forced to share. In Victorian England it was ironic that Prince Albert died from Typhoid caught from the castle drains due to polluted sewage from the insanitary conditions of the poor. Equally in this novel, the rich girl that the main character falls in love with is dying of consumption which is spread through the air. If justice was vengeful then this would be it.
Today New York is representative of a global city built on capitalism and neo-liberal values which thrives on inequality as ???it is counter-productive in the long-run to devise a socially just distribution if the size of the product to be distributed shrinks markedly through the inefficient use of scarce resources??? (Harvey 1973). David Harvey (1973, 1985) posits that there is a political necessity to understand the spatial distribution of land uses as convergence in well-being has not occurred and geographical as well as social inequalities within the capitalist world appear to have increased in recent decades. Whereas urban policy had previously been preoccupied with the provision of services, facilities, and benefits to urban populations, it became in the 1970s and 1980s under late capitalism much more focused on driving local economic development and employment growth through more ???entrepreneurial strategies (Harvey, 1989), frequently with an expanded role for unelected decision makers such as private companies or `arms-length development agencies (Jessop, 1997). The relocation of the BBC to Salford in 2007, demonstrates well how neoliberal policies can stimulate injustice in space.
In the philosophy of neo-liberalism, given that the economy and the market is the fundamental regulating and structuring mechanism and given the increasing alignment of urban governance with the imperatives of capital accumulation, the centrality of interurban competition has intensified. Since the initial debates on the relocation of the BBC into Manchester, competition was fierce between the possible sites in Salford and Manchester. These cities had a history of tension specifically around attracting (and attracting finance for) redevelopment schemes (e.g. Robson, 2002). Peck (2005) states that cities have little choice but to compete for signature development projects such as that of the BBC; as such projects are in short supply. Yet ???the primary outcome of such competition is to facilitate, subsidise, and accelerate the very factor that renders cities vulnerable to disinvestment and underdevelopment in the first place: namely, the geographical mobility of capital, which allows and engenders uneven geographical development at the interurban scale??? (Christophers 2007). The underlying dynamics and drivers of this process can be helpfully illuminated by returning to Neil Smiths (1979; 1987) `rent gap theory in urban gentrification. ???Rent-gap??™ theory tells us that as the value of the capital stock in the inner city declines, the possibility of higher returns on investment attracts capital flows back into the area, often with the assistance of government incentives. Thus residential gentrification tended to occur in areas demonstrating large gaps between actual and potential land value (ground rent). One can speculate that Salford Quays ultimately proved more attractive than Manchesters Central Spine in part due to the presence of a greater `rent gap. Such a gap reflected the unevenness of previous rounds of urban investment and that the closing of this gap, driven by interurban competition, would ???further lubricate capital mobility by opening up new gradients in interurban rent landscapes??? (Christophers 2007).
Not only has a rival urban area been exposed to inequality due to lost opportunity that gentrification brings to an area, but inequality is activated further in the area exposed to gentrification as lower socioeconomic communities are exposed to losing the use-value of their homes and communities and are displaced by large offices and commercial developments that have greater exchange-values when traded as commodities. This can also be seen in the regeneration of Covent Gardens in 1972 and the London Docklands during the Thatcher government of the 1980s. Thus to create just cities, one must challenge neoliberal urbanism. Recently, the current capitalist system has taken a hit. Several prominent economists now reckon that inequality was a root cause of the recent global financial crisis: politicians tried to counter the growing gap between rich and poor by encouraging poorer folk to take on more credit.
Returning to the novel, an important underlying theme is our perceptions of the ideal city that is ???just??™ and how the inhabitants might become worthy of such space:
To enter a city intact it is necessary to pass through . . . gates far more difficult to find than gates of stone, for they are test mechanisms, devices, and implementations of justice. One gate is that of acceptance of responsibility, another is that of the desire to explore, still another that of devotion to beauty, and the last is the gate of selfless love.
Beginning with the first gate of justice,??™ acceptance of responsibility??™ allows social cohesion and represses crime and violence. People are responsible for each other and therefore trust is born which allows for a functioning and integrated community which has effective informal checks on crime. Moreover civic associations can be a useful source of loans. With regards to welfare systems, the extreme left and right-wing reactions are lacking in justice. In response to left-wing views, ???nobody should be exempt from contributing to their own betterment to the best of their ability??? (Etzioni 1995). By contrast, in response to right-wing views, ???there are socio-economic conditions that nobody can control which exact undue human costs.??? An individual who loses their job due to technological change, should not have to deal with the consequences of progress alone. Society must continue to share these burdens and some welfare state must exist to provide the enabling mechanism. Etzioni proposes the principle of ???Subsidiarity??™ to responsibility which implies that responsibility belongs first to those who are nearest to the problem. Only if a solution cannot be found by the individual, does responsibility devolve to the family. Only if the family cannot cope, should the local community get involved, after which the city or state should become involved.
There is a tendency of modern society to strip duties from the family and deposit them in state-run institutions such childcare centres and nursing homes. This ???creeping institutionalization of human relationships is a main source of rising welfare costs??™ (Etzioni). The problem emerges in observing additionally that the public??™s willingness to pay additional taxes to support further expansions of the welfare state has been exhausted. Therefore simultaneously a situation arises in which families are both unwilling to finance a system to care for their families through the state and also are unaccustomed to having to personally attend to their families. Justice is thus aided by families resuming parts of their responsibilities. An example of this would be earlier discharge from hospitals following deliveries and most surgeries. The benefits of this would be that it reduces public costs, it shores up the family and it gives patients more personal care. Yet in order to make this approach feasible, arrangements must be made to make it easier for families to discharge their duties by broader introduction of flextime, shared jobs and technological arrangements that enable people to work from home. As previously highlighted, Helprin places a lot of emphasis on family in his idealistic depiction of New York City.
The third line of responsibility lies with the community. Etzioni gives a case study in Seattle in which 400,000 citizens were trained in first aid techniques to re-start the heart. This enabled a strengthened communitarian spirit in which people get to know one another socially in cardiac resuscitation refresher classes and all at little public cost (compared to the upgrading of the city??™s ambulance service). The fourth line of responsibility lies with society at large in that society has a responsibility to help those least able to help themselves. However Etzioni proposes that rather than using means-testing which stigmatizes recipients and in the long term undercuts public support for the programme, there must be a system of taxable income. In this way all will continue to receive their child allowance, health benefits and so on but the more affluent the person the more will be returned to the public till through taxes.
The second gate to justice involves the ???desire to explore ??? which captures justice in that no duality in space exists. There are no physical or mental barriers which separate various socio-economic classes in a just city. Injustice is no better documented than in Victorian England. Engels (1844) describes the city of Manchester as being ???peculiarly built, so that a person may live in it for years, and go in and out daily without coming into contact with a working-people??™s quarter or even with workers… by unconscious tacit agreement, as well as with outspoken conscious determination, the working-people??™s quarters are sharply separated from the sections of the city reserved for the middle class, or, if this does not succeed they are concealed with the cloak of charity.??? The third gate: ???Devotion to beauty??™ suggests that it is not only the rich who have the sparkling palaces, but the poor too have the means and right to create and live amongst beauty ??“ they need not be segregated. This promotes the idea of a mixed community, of uniform houses, green spaces and sustainable design. Again in reference to Engel??™s depiction of Victorian England, he describes that houses for the poor were built with ???sole reference to the highest possible profit on the principle that no hole is so bad but that some poor creature must take it who can pay for nothing better.???
The final gate of ???selfless love??™ is one of an innate desire to overcome self-importance and look upon other as deserving equals. Again all socio-economic stratas can live side-by-side. Justice doesn??™t marginalize the poor and force them to live in conditions inferior to the rich which can engender resent and violence. Moreover discrimination on grounds of gender, disability is unacceptable. In Saskia Sassin??™s (1991) depiction of the socially polarized ???global city??? of New York, ???the poor are disproportionately black and hispanic??? and large numbers of this racialised poor are also within households headed by a single female parent. ???Selfless love??? in the philosophy of an ideal city would not have divorce, and as in Helprin??™s shining palaces of New York, family values would be of utmost importance.
Acceptance of responsibility and selfless love does not necessarily imply ???welfarism??™ as the main solution. Iris Marion Young (1990) provides a powerful theory of injustice which condemns welfarism and its ???institutionalized denial of the domination and oppression that marginalized social groups have suffered and resisted for decades in capitalist societies??? (Brendan Gleeson). What many believe to be corrective justice is challenged. Young argues that domination and oppression must replace material distribution as the central politico-theoretical concerns for progressive social movements. Young shows that the political and institutional practice of distributional justice by capitalist welfare states in the postwar era was hardly a universally beneficial project, rather enshrining the economic and cultural privilege of dominant identities, notably white middle-class men. The result of oppression and injustice for Young is fivefold: ???exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence.??? In her analysis marginalized social groups experience these ???faces??? of injustice and modalities of power in different ways.
In order to find justice amongst the marginalized social groups one must establish whether a ???just city??™ can co-exist with ???cities of indifference??™. A starting point would be the delineation by Scott (1990): ???equality is not the elimination of difference, and difference does not preclude equality.??? Moreover Anne Phillips (1992) suggests replacing the ???universal citizen??™ as the subject of justice with differentiated persons and groups. The diversity of the city should be celebrated rather than used as a reason for segregation and injustice. For Young, cities are sites defined by ???the being together of strangers.??™ Furthermore urbanization actually amplifies ???particularistic affiliations??™ and reinforces ???group solidarity and differentiation??™. No longer is the Rousseauist ideal of community??™s mutual understanding and sympathy owing to transparency valid. Rather the social relations this assumes such as face-to-face interaction, have long been absent from city life. For Young, city life is structured around social relations between ???both seen and unseen strangers??™, around casual encounters and the ???brushing together of opaque groups and individuals.??™ It is within this city framework that the uneven distributions of privilege and marginalization are embedded.
In such a world of ???strangers??™ linked through unequal power relations, justice should be instituted in urban space through a right to respect for diversity and difference, ???for it is such an integral aspect of urban life, the use of city space and the decisions that are made about that space??? (Eleanor Kofman). Nancy Fraser (1995) proposes an alternative framework of urban remedies that is structured around ???affirmation??™ and ???transformation??™. Firstly affirmative remedies affect equity without doing away with the fundamental structures of difference around which inequity may have been built. For instance this may include multiculturalism or gay rights politics that revalues and gives new legitimacy to previously marginalized groups. Transformative remedies depend upon a radical fracturing of the generative frameworks of difference around which inequity has been built. This would entail deconstructing the binary notions of white and black for example. This is seen not to entirely dissolve difference but rather as a way of opening out possibilities for sustaining ???multiple, debinarised, fluid, ever-shifting differences.??™
By contrast David Harvey (1997) believes that injustice is essentially to be thought of as a principle for resolving conflict claims and that political futures must recognise that ???some have more than others??™ and that radical politics must work together to draw different groups together into strategically formed alliances in order to ensure that justice prevails in relation to those who are so deeply marginalized. Otherwise without strategically formed alliances we get the basis of the (economic) division of labour in society and of the unequal relations of wealth and power which are organized spatially. At the heart of Harvey??™s attitude is the need to explore efficiency and distribution jointly, as if ???in the short-run we simply pursue efficiency and ignore the social cost, then those individuals or groups who bear the brunt of that cost are likely to be a source of long-run inefficiency??? (Harvey 1973) either through Liebensteins??™s (1966) ???x-inefficiency??™ or through social forms of anti-social behaviour which will necessitate the diversion of productive investment towards their correction.
A city should be celebrated for its functional and facilitative qualities rather than be undermined by injustices that often overpower the holistic beauty of the city. A just city can indeed be better comprehended if one replaced the universal citizen as the subject of justice to the differentiated persons and groups which populate the cities. Thus we can understand that in fact achieving justice is not elimination of difference but it??™s celebration in a right to respect all diversity and difference. Marginalised groups need to be given rights and revalued. However in reality a problem that theorizing about enabling justice may encounter, is that some structures of power and difference are so deeply embedded in city spaces that such radical transformations may be futile. Therefore what is needed is more radical. It is our value systems which should be manipulated by seeing the common well-being as part of our own personal wellbeing. This way we develop justice through moral transformation, through importance of family and community, through responsibility to each other and of common property, through desire to explore because no territory is revolting or insulting to one??™s class, through the desire for beauty which is shared by all classes and through selfless love to achieve all of the above. Beauty is thus a city which rejoices in justice alone, yet a moderated sense of justice in which the interests of all, not only the marginalised, poor and excluded; are compromised, as we live in a world constrained by currency and time yet rewarded by efficiency and the desire of betterment.
??? Cities of Difference, 19998, edited by Fincher and Jacobs
??? Cities of Pride 1995 , edited by Dr Dick Atkinson
??? Cities in a world economy, 2000 by saskia sassen
??? Social Justice and the City (should have read more) 1973 by David Harvey
??? The City Reader 2007, edited by LeGates and Stout
??? From violence to justice and security in cities 1996, Franz Vanderschueren
??? The BBC, the creative class, and neoliberal urbanism in the north of England by Brett Christophers 2008
??? Benjamin De Mott??™s literary review in the New York Times of ???A Winter??™s Tale??™ 1986