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Summary

The potential for a natural partnership between Lean Urbanism and social-justice groups is self-evident and should be explored. A growing movement of social-justice organizations across the world are coalescing behind the concept of “the right to the city” as a means to garner support for a wide range of social issues that can be characterized by a belief that everyone has a right to design and shape their community. These groups have the energy and determination to alter the status quo of financial and regulatory structures that prevent people who lack access to resources and capital, such as millennials and immigrants, from becoming active in small-scale development. But these groups often also lack the technical knowledge to achieve such goals. Lean Urbanism can provide tools and know-how that these groups need.

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The Right to the City

“The right to the city” is a concept that has attracted a growing number of social-justice organizations both small and large, national and international, that share a common vision of breaking down institutionalized barriers to individuals who may lack resources and capital from effectively participating in the shaping and development of their communities. These individuals include youth, immigrants, and other disenfranchised urban inhabitants.


Background

In the 1960s, French philosopher Henri Lefebvre coined the term la droit à la ville. The right to the city has since been discussed as a strategy to counter contemporary neoliberal global financial restructuring efforts and as a means to prevent the continuing disenfranchisement of urban inhabitants across the world.

It is important to understand the way Lefebvre and his modern contemporaries view the city in a market economy. The role of the city is to absorb surplus capital, produce surplus product and therefore surplus value, and then to facilitate the reinvestment of the surplus capital to create more surplus value. The continuous cycle of capital reinvestment has shaped cities throughout human history. As David Harvey outlines in “The Right to the City,” there come certain episodes in time where opportunities to reinvest surplus capital are limited within existing urban forms and thus create the drive to reshape and rescale both markets and cities. He points out that this was one of Haussmann’s lasting legacies. Haussmann succeeded in rescaling Paris and facilitating the absorption of surplus capital through new debt-finance instruments and large infrastructure improvements. This effort to rescale urban forms and markets has occurred multiple times since, most visibly after World War II in the form of low-density sprawl, and most recently through the globalization of debt and credit finance institutions which led to the Great Recession.

Further discussion of what a right to the city would entail has provided us with two main concepts as pointed out by Mark Purcell in his article “Excavating Lefebvre: The right to the city and its urban politics of the inhabitant.” These two main concepts, the right to participation and the right to appropriation, outline the implications of a right to the city. The right to participation is simple in that many decisions that influence public space should be rescaled from often national or international institutions or organizations (such as NAFTA, the WTO, and in particular, the IBC) to the urban inhabitant. In addition, the right to appropriation, or an increased ability to use urban space as one sees fit, is the other half of the concept of a right to the city.


An International Platform

The Right to the City movement (RTTC) has played a large role in shaping international urban development policy in the past decade. So much so that UN-HABITAT’s 5th World Urban Forum held in Barcelona in 2005 adopted the theme of “The Right to the City – Bridging the Urban Divide.” Joint efforts by UN-HABITAT and UNESCO to explore efforts to codify a right to the city have produced voluminous reports that aim to outline what a right to the city would look like. However, as with most international agreements, there is a strategic ambiguity to such documents that aim to garner the most support among member states with different interests without causing serious disagreement. Thus the majority of efforts to outline a right to the city have resulted in only vague documents. Mark Purcell outlines this common theme by noting that “the idea remains both theoretically and politically underdeveloped.”

The social-justice organizations promoting a right to the city include a large number of energized and vocal supporters who share common goals with advocates of Lean Urbanism. They shape international development policy and influence academic studies of social justice. With the right tools, these social-justice groups could help achieve a reduction in the barriers to the ability of disenfranchised urban inhabitants to participate in the shaping of their communities.


The Role of Lean Urbanism

Lean Urbanism’s emphasis on reducing institutionalized barriers to entry for those who lack the resources mirror the goals of the RTTC groups. While social-justice groups organizing under the RTTC umbrella have achieved a strong momentum and continue to grow larger, often their efforts are expended in an inefficient manner that prevents them from realizing their goals to the fullest extent. In the United States in particular, they can lack the political and professional knowledge of our current development finance and regulatory structures and often fail to fully appreciate what it would take to advocate for effective change at a policy level. The Project for Lean Urbanism is drawing on its development and design expertise to create the tools and methods to best influence local regulatory policy or work around it. These tools could provide RTTC groups with some of the means to achieve their goals.


The Toolkit

The Lean Urbanism Toolkit being developed for the general public aims to engage and nurture community development through the highlighting of latent social capital through a variety of methods. One such method is that of the Lean Scan, a process of evaluating community-building problems and solutions not just within the built environment but also the social relationships within the community. As Hank Dittmar states in “The Lean Scan – Activating Community Assets,” “Lean Urbanism is thus not only a tool for a simpler and more cost-effective scale of revitalization, but also for one which is aimed at ensuring community benefit and control of the process — developing the social capital of a community along with the built environment.”

The general shift in the way communities should view development from large-scale to small-scale can be characterized by a realigned ethical regime at a local policy level proposed by Bruce Donnelly in “Lean Ethics – the Big and the Small.” He states that by reviewing the financial and regulatory body of development standards in our communities through a Lean lens, we can identify what policies stifle small-scale community development and what policies, if changed, would provide the best result once re-tailored for “Making Small Possible.” If in reference to certain development regulations, community leaders could ask questions such as “Does it fall too hard on the small?” they would be able to use a Lean ethical lens to increase opportunities for those with access to fewer resources.

The open-access, open-source, and open-ended nature of Lean Urbanism is purposefully designed to increase the ability for more people to shape and influence the built environment through publicly available tools that allow a small-scale, incremental, and affordable approach to shaping our communities.

In this sense, Lean Urbanism is in the best position to provide the framework for achieving a new paradigm called for by proponents of both movements. The ability to participate in development outside of the global debt-finance institutions of contemporary society is called for by advocates of the right to the city and would be enabled by Lean Urbanism.


The Benefits of an Accessible Partnership

Language is the largest barrier to a popularly accessible Lean Urbanism among social movements. Lean Urbanism can easily be translated into the realm of social justice. By no means should there be a change to the current positioning of Lean Urbanism as it brands itself as most attractive to the small-scale entrepreneur and developer. However, by adding certain themes and terms to its Lexicon, Lean Urbanism could form a bridge to influential and vocal movements that share very similar goals. Those themes should include disenfranchisement, inequality, and the right to the city, along with current social-justice research in academia and the extensive philosophical groundwork laid by Henri Lefebvre in the 1960s and by David Harvey more recently. By enlarging the argument for Lean Urbanism from primarily one of development and economic benefits to one that is more inclusive and incorporates similar goals of a wide variety of social-justice movements, Lean Urbanism can become an even more attractive concept to the general public.

Eric Pate

Eric Pate

Eric Pate is a graduate student at the University of New Orleans in the Urban and Regional Planning Department. He is specializing in Urban Design, Land Use, and Transportation planning, and has served as an intern with the Seaside Institute. His strong commitment to fostering sustainable communities and regions drives his interest in traditional urbanism.

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  Publications

November 23rd, 2016

Tool Survey – Existing and Proposed

Lean Urbanism is a way to restore common sense to the processes of development, building, starting small businesses, community engagement, and acquiring the necessary skills. The Project for Lean Urbanism is collecting and developing tools and daylighting techniques to enable and encourage those activities. This collection is the result of a survey to identify tools developed elsewhere and to track ideas for those that are needed. As tools are developed by the Project for Lean Urbanism, they will be made freely available on this website.

November 4th, 2016

The Pink Zone – Where Small Is Possible

Summary

The Pink Zone is a powerful tool for concentrating resources on the task of enabling small-scale, community-centered development and revitalization. It defines an area of focus, leverages a suite of available tools, and provides a platform for the community to gather resources, make commitments, and work together on projects that enhance community character and allow existing businesses and residents to remain and profit from the improved quality of life. The Pink Zone tool will be developed and refined in a series of pilot projects, and then released to the public.

August 18th, 2015

Lessons from PHX – Embracing Lean Urbanism

Summary

The City of Phoenix has become a model of Lean Governing, demonstrating the benefits of community revitalization when a municipality enables and encourages the work of creative entrepreneurs, small developers, neighborhood leaders, and community organizations. Along the way, it has employed and refined a number of principles and techniques that other cities can use to revitalize their neighborhoods. Phoenix is demonstrating that small projects can lead to big results.

August 13th, 2015

The Lexicon of Lean Urbanism

Summary

The Lexicon of Lean Urbanism defines the “terms of art” and other useful words and phrases that have emerged from extended discussions on the online Lean Urbanism discussion group and at Lean Councils. The first section is dedicated to these terms, and the second presents a selection of helpful quotations.

July 29th, 2015

The Katrina Cottage Movement – A Case Study

Summary

Appealing, context-aware designs for small-scale homes in small-scale neighborhoods grabbed national attention during the 2005 Mississippi Renewal Forum after Hurricane Katrina. Though it took far longer for the ideas to find traction than anyone imagined, trial-and-error progress has produced models worth emulating, and just in time to address new realities in housing demand in post-recession America.

April 15th, 2015

Lean Urbanism and the Right to the City

Summary

The potential for a natural partnership between Lean Urbanism and social-justice groups is self-evident and should be explored. A growing movement of social-justice organizations across the world are coalescing behind the concept of “the right to the city” as a means to garner support for a wide range of social issues that can be characterized by a belief that everyone has a right to design and shape their community. These groups have the energy and determination to alter the status quo of financial and regulatory structures that prevent people who lack access to resources and capital, such as millennials and immigrants, from becoming active in small-scale development. But these groups often also lack the technical knowledge to achieve such goals. Lean Urbanism can provide tools and know-how that these groups need.

April 15th, 2015

Regulatory Barriers to Home Construction and Rehab

Summary

Regulatory barriers make housing less affordable to millions of households in the US and abroad. If regulatory barriers were reduced, small developers could provide housing at more affordable prices. This article assesses the current state of knowledge about the effects of federal, state, and local regulations on the supply and cost of housing.

April 7th, 2015

Low-Fat Vanilla Finance – A Simple Financial Model

Summary

New developers should create their own financial models. Only by doing so will they truly understand the variables and how each affects financial performance. This paper attempts to walk new developers through a financial model that includes development budget, annual return, and capital return. It is simple enough to create but sophisticated enough to present to investors and lenders. It represents one small residential rental building — not condo, and not office or retail.

April 6th, 2015

Lean Financing – Alternatives to Institutional Capital

Summary

Financing Lean Development requires both institutional and non-institutional sources of capital. This paper focuses on project equity from non-institutional sources. Years of observations and anecdotal conversations with developers of small, innovative projects suggest that Lean Development is coming of age, but it has significant hurdles to realizing its potential, and financing is among the more difficult to overcome. Understanding the motivations, requirements and techniques for working with non-institutional investors is critical to overcoming one of the primary hurdles for Lean Development.

April 3rd, 2015

Pilot Projects – Testing Tools, Building Platforms

Summary

The Lean Urbanism movement will come to life through pilot projects, as they will spread the knowledge from the professionals to community builders and entrepreneurs. They are at the core of the Project for Lean Urbanism, as they will serve to demonstrate the potential for and value of incremental, community-scale revitalization and development by tapping local physical, financial, and social assets that are currently underutilized. The pilot projects will also be used to test and refine the tools, to identify and seek solutions to common barriers in regulation or practice that inhibit small-scale development or rebuilding, and to serve as models for use by other communities.