The Just Spaces data tool is a project of University City District (UCD), supported by a grant from the Knight Foundation and UCD internal resources. Throughout this project, UCD embarked on a process to explore social justice in its own public spaces, events, and Green City Works  landscaping social enterprise, and to develop a mobile-ready data collection and analysis tool with our partners at DataMade. 



Just Spaces

UCD organizational background
University City District is a partnership of world renowned anchor institutions, small businesses and residents that creates opportunity, and improves economic vitality and quality of life in the University City area of West Philadelphia. Our primary mission is community revitalization. We work within a place-based, data-driven framework to invest in world-class public spaces, address crime and public safety, bring life to commercial corridors, connect low-income residents to careers, and promote job growth and innovation.
UCD’s public space portfolio includes The Porch at 30th Street Station, Trolley Portal Gardens, several pedestrian plazas located in primarily residential neighborhoods, an annual program to install Parklets in parking spaces around the district, and street seating in the public right of way. The organization is responsible for the design, operations and programming of these spaces.  UCD also regularly engages with public spaces that are not directly under our control, including public parks and privately owned, publicly accessible plazas and parks.  
Just Spaces Project Background
Just Spaces is UCD’s effort to seize the imperative as a developer and operator of public spaces to engage in principled, frank analysis of our work and develop deliberate tactics to ensure that public spaces are deeply inclusive and just. In Philadelphia, hundreds of millions of dollars in public, private, and philanthropic investments are devoted to developing and renovating public spaces. As these spaces proliferate, the discourse about equity in public spaces ranges from lip service to sincerity, but we have lacked sufficient frameworks to evaluate or evolve in our approaches. The project, with the support of its advisory group, adopted a framework developed by Setha Low at the City University of New York Graduate Center that outlines five realms of justice in public space:
  • Distributive - Who has physical access (by walking, bike, transit, and private vehicle) to a public space or network of spaces? 
  • Procedural - How do people feel about their influence over the design, operations, and programming of a public space?
  • Interactional - What makes people feel welcome or unwanted in a public space?
  • Representational - Do people feel their experience and history is represented in a space? 
  • Care - How do people demonstrate their care for the space and each other? 
When considering principles of social justice, urban planners and designers commonly emphasize the need for initial public input in the physical design and general public access of the space. These approaches neglect what becomes the life of the space: its ongoing operations, programming and governance. When investments do not prioritize equity and justice, they can entrench and inflame existing injustices. Most owners and operators of public space networks tend to focus heavily on the design of individual spaces; our work aims to change this paradigm by prioritizing justice.

Just Spaces FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions