The Democratic Foundations of the Just City: Urban Planning Politics in Three European Cities

This project investigates the roles of leadership, stakeholder cooperation and democratic scrutiny in different institutional and regulatory settings for pursuing urban planning policies that arguably contribute more or less to the ideal of the Just City, defined as a city that mitigates ghettoization, gentrification and maintains access to affordable housing. 

By investigating the role of political leadership and the conditioning role of the institutional context, this study aims to better understand whether cities are merely dependent on structural forces (such as the national institutional and regulatory environment) or whether it is in the power of urban political leaders to enforce urban planning policies that are in line with the ideal of the Just City. 

Through comparative case studies in three, Western European cities (Birmingham, Lyon, and Zurich), the project investigates municipal planning politics in relation to the Just City since the early 1980s. In the first stage of the project, comparative measures are used to assess Just City outcomes in each of the three cities over time. This is followed by document analysis and in-depth interviewing to gain a fine-grained understanding of institutional patterns and policymaking, interpreting local policy efforts in light of the comparative assessment and linking political processes of urban planning back to the institutional and regulatory context.

Aim and Research Questions

The aim of the project is to investigate the role that local democratic institutions and processes play in pursuing urban planning policies that arguably contribute more or less to the ideal of the Just City.

  1. The research seeks to answer two key questions: How do institutional and regulatory urban planning systems impact on Just City outcomes?
  2. What is the role of urban political leaders in contributing to the Just City?

Research team

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Funder/client: Swiss National Science Foundation
Timescale: May 2017 - June 2020


lee-peter-newProject lead: Dr Peter Lee
Tel: 0121 414 3645