University City District Launches Just Spaces Initiative to Examine Justice in Public Spaces

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

For Immediate Release
Contact: Alissa Weiss, Director of Strategic Initiatives and Communications
215-243-0555 x251 or [email protected]

University City District Launches Just Spaces Initiative to Examine Justice in Public Spaces
Public space leader convenes broad array of experts to inform a new public space planning tool

Philadelphia – October 18, 2017 – This week, University City District (UCD), a leader in entrepreneurial approaches to community revitalization, launched Just Spaces, an initiative designed to ensure that public spaces in University City are deeply inclusive and just. With support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, UCD will develop a tool to audit and improve public spaces in its district and throughout Philadelphia.

UCD creates and manages a variety of popular and dynamic public spaces throughout University City, including The Porch at 30th Street Station, Parklets, pedestrian plazas, and the forthcoming Trolley Portal Gardens. UCD will develop and deploy the ‘Just Spaces’ audit to assess its own network of public space projects, building on the notion that public spaces are forums to be experienced and negotiated across lines of race, class, gender, age, sexual preference, ethnicity and ability differences.

“UCD has made improving the public realm central to our approach of improving our community, and we believe Just Spaces is the next critical step of this work,” says Andrew Stober, UCD’s Vice President of Planning and Economic Development, who is leading the project. “With Just Spaces, UCD is prepared to step back and not only ask ‘How do people feel when they’re in our public spaces,’ but ‘Who is not coming to our public spaces and why?’”

UCD, which has been nationally recognized for its data-driven analysis of who uses its public spaces, will ask the questions that too frequently are not addressed in public space data collection: “Who is absent from this public space and why aren’t those people here?” To address these questions, UCD will assess its own public spaces along three axes of justice, conceptualized by City University of New York Graduate Center Professor Setha Low:

  • Distributional - who has physical proximity to space assets;
  • Procedural - who is listened to and how are they listened to in the planning, design and operations of a public space; and
  • Interactional - what makes people feel welcome or unwanted in a public space.

To accomplish this vision, UCD has established the Just Spaces Advisory Board, a diverse array of experts representing disciplines ranging from design and architecture to public education, public safety and public art. The Advisory Board will meet three times over the course of the project and offer varying perspectives to help UCD refine its framework and audit tool. UCD envisions the final product being used by space planners and managers in Philadelphia and beyond.

“Whether unintentional or intentional, public spaces can unite or divide a community,” said Veronica O. Davis, Managing Partner of Nspiregreen LLC, the consultant on Just Spaces. “With that in mind, we look forward to working with UCD to have intentional conversation around equity and justice, which can be translated to the broader Philadelphia community.”

“Creating public spaces that bring residents of all backgrounds together to connect and share their lives is an important way to expand opportunity and overcome divides. Through this process we will discover the tools and conversations we need to have to foster city development and vibrancy. What is learned here can be shared across Philadelphia and nationally,” said Patrick Morgan, Knight Foundation, program director for Philadelphia.

The members of the Just Space Advisory Board are:

  • Erica D. Atwood, CEO, First Degree Consulting, LLC
  • Kevin Bethel, Philadelphia Deputy Police Commissioner (retired), City of Philadelphia; Stoneleigh Fellow
  • Charles Brown, Senior Researcher, Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center; Adjunct Professor, Edward
  • J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University
  • Ignacio Bunster-Ossa, Vice President, AECOM
  • Malcolm Burnley, Journalist
  • Michael Farrell, Principal, Penn Alexander School
  • Diane Gallagher, Executive Director, HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy
  • Elizabeth Greenspan, Writer and Urban Anthropologist
  • John Herzins, Deputy Public Property Commissioner (retired), City of Philadelphia
  • Amy Hillier, Associate Professor of Social Policy and Practice, Penn Design
  • Keir Johnston, Co-Founder, Amber Art and Design
  • Maurice Jones, President, PRIDE Ventures, Inc; President, Garden Court Community Association
  • Melissa Kim, Program Officer, LISC Philadelphia
  • Mark Kocent, Principal Planner, Office of the University Architect, University of Pennsylvania
  • Michelle Lee, Product, Protocol Labs; Co-Founder/CEO, Textizen
  • Setha Low, Professor of Anthropology, Graduate Center at The City University of New York
  • Takia McClendon, Digital Engagement and Content Manger, City Fit Girls
  • Aparna Palantino, Deputy Commissioner of Capital Infrastructure and Natural Lands Management, City
  • of Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation
  • Tayyib Smith, Founding Partner, Little Giant Creative; Co-Founder, Institute of Hip Hop
  • Entrepreneurship; Partner, Pipeline Brickell

About University City District
UCD promotes a world class, vibrant University City through major investments in public space
development, public maintenance and public safety, by connecting entrepreneurs and residents to
economic opportunity, and through the creation and management of destination events. Learn more at

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. They invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Their goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which they believe are essential for a healthy democracy.