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Susan Fainstein, addressing the 13th Global Development Conference

 When The Just City came out in the year 2010, it created a wave in the world of urban planning and policymaking and author Susan Fainstein received the Davidoff Book Award from the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning. Since then, the book has been cited abundantly both in the United States of America, as well as in other urban communities across developing countries and transition economies throughout a variety of discussions, presentations and gatherings focusing on conversations about revitalization and sustainability of cities through "equity, inclusion, activism, justice, service and access."

What made The Just City unique is Professor Fainstein’s commitment to social justice that shines through the pages, and she provided a challenging approach to evaluating urban development projects from this perspective. Moreover, what Professor Fainstein proposed – that of making justice the first evaluative criterion used in policymaking transcends geographical barriers and becomes germane whether in Europe or Asia, in the context of 'Urbanization and Development', this year’s theme for GDN’s 13th Annual Global Development Conference held in Budapest, Hungary.

Professor Fainstein while speaking to Khanh Phuong from the Newspaper of Construction, Ministry of Construction, Vietnam, at the Conference pointed out that "urban policy relates very much to urban planning and urban planning of most cities is influenced, to some degree, by the processes of urban policy."

She added that urban planning and urban policy are generally concerned with the management of urban areas and they are activities that influence the investment processes in cities. Therefore, in order to have good planning, a city must have a good/ proper urban policy, which depends very much on the coordination between decision-makers. Decision-makers on urban policy include many participants in the fields of land use, economy, transport, land relocation, and so on, and they must coordinate very closely, on every detail to avoid duplication and shortages. "Where there is no coordination or insufficient coordination, the city cannot have good planning, and this can be seen in most developing countries."

She asserts that good planning requires decision-makers on urban policy to have adequate social understanding alongside the capability of understanding urban planning. City authorities should not push or simply remove slum-dwellers out of the city where they are now putting their shelter, but should enable them by some kinds of subsidy policies so that they can stay in the city (because they may not have options). Subsidies are always provided by local authorities, though in difficult economic situations as nowadays, local authorities can tax the higher income groups to support the poor, alongside other tools of economic mobilization that can help such groups.

Discussion of justice is thus examined (as expounded in her book) in relation to the "practical realities of urban planning and policymaking – within cities’ national and global contexts, processes of social exclusion, governance issues, and conflicts within and variation among places."

On being asked as to how she views redevelopment, Professor Fainstein remarked that the process of redevelopment has major impacts on many urban aspects and has played an important role in the history and demographics of cities around the world. "Developing countries in Asia always face the problem of redevelopment; not all cities, but most of them. Redevelopment in theory is always much easier than reality. It must be coordinated between multi-branches. Budget/ money is important in dealing with this matter, but urban redevelopment cannot be successful if there is insufficient coordination and cooperation."

Professor Fainstein finished by commenting about young planners that they have potentials and ambition, but that they must also be realistic. Being a planner, they should listen to the community; they should consult, refer to what they learnt in their training years, as well as best practices from international experience. "With the IT nowadays, this can be done easily and they should take advantage of it to avoid mistakes from the past."

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[Adapted from an interview by Khanh Phuong from the Newspaper of Construction, Ministry of Construction, Vietnam.]

NOTE: Susan Fainstein is a Professor of Urban Planning at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, USA and a Visiting Professor at the LKY School of the National University of Singapore. She has also taught at Columbia and Rutgers universities and been a Visiting Professor at the University of Amsterdam and the University of the Witwatersrand. Her teaching and research have focused on comparative urban public policy, planning theory, and urban redevelopment. Among her other books are 'The City Builders: Property, Politics, and Planning in London and New York'; 'Restructuring the City'; and 'Urban Political Movements'. She has also co-edited volumes on urban tourism ('The Tourist City' and 'Cities and Visitors'), gender and planning, planning theory, and urban theory.