Special Issue "Designing Spaces for City Living"


A special issue of Buildings (ISSN 2075-5309).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 January 2014)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Sharon E. Sutton
Department of Architecture, University of Washington, 208P Gould Hall Box 355720, Seattle, WA 98197-5720, USA
Website: http://faculty.washington.edu/sesut/
E-Mail: sesut@u.washington.edu
Phone: +1 206 383 6052
Interests: social justice; youth; participation; segregation; placemaking; socially conscious design; community assets; community-university partnerships

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This special issue will offer a timely, interdisciplinary perspective on the theory and practice of designing socially just, intergenerational urban space. It will not only explore the age-old problem of urbanization in light of such current challenges as growing income inequality, climate change, globalization, and unprecedented urbanization, it will also present strategies for addressing those challenges through research, practice, and policy making. One set of papers will focus upon the inequalities that arise from place-based discriminatory practices, including inequitable allocation of resources and hegemonic belief systems. These papers might investigate how spatial policies and practices alienate low-income communities of color, while reinforcing negative stereotypes of the demographic characteristics of these communities. Another set of papers will focus upon placemaking strategies that help low-income adults and youth shape more equitable surroundings. These papers might present best practices in engaging marginalized communities in transforming their surroundings, while also building their own capacities as citizens.

Dr. Sharon E. Sutton
Guest Editor


Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. Papers will be published continuously (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are refereed through a peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Buildings is an international peer-reviewed Open Access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 300 CHF (Swiss Francs). English correction and/or formatting fees of 250 CHF (Swiss Francs) will be charged in certain cases for those articles accepted for publication that require extensive additional formatting and/or English corrections.


  • social justice
  • youth
  • participation
  • segregation
  • placemaking
  • socially conscious design
  • community assets
  • community-university partnerships

Published Papers (5 papers)

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Displaying article 1-5
p. 764-784
Buildings 2014, 4(4), 764-784; doi:10.3390/buildings4040764
Received: 12 April 2014; in revised form: 23 September 2014 / Accepted: 24 September 2014 / Published: 20 October 2014
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(This article belongs to the Special Issue Designing Spaces for City Living)
p. 711-736
by ,  and
Buildings 2014, 4(4), 711-736; doi:10.3390/buildings4040711
Received: 12 February 2014; in revised form: 24 September 2014 / Accepted: 25 September 2014 / Published: 16 October 2014
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(This article belongs to the Special Issue Designing Spaces for City Living)
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p. 155-194
Buildings 2014, 4(2), 155-194; doi:10.3390/buildings4020155
Received: 21 January 2014; in revised form: 13 March 2014 / Accepted: 22 April 2014 / Published: 21 May 2014
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(This article belongs to the Special Issue Designing Spaces for City Living)
p. 69-94
by  and
Buildings 2014, 4(2), 69-94; doi:10.3390/buildings4020069
Received: 17 January 2014; in revised form: 2 April 2014 / Accepted: 2 April 2014 / Published: 14 April 2014
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p. 482-505
by , , ,  and
Buildings 2013, 3(3), 482-505; doi:10.3390/buildings3030482
Received: 17 May 2013; in revised form: 9 July 2013 / Accepted: 12 July 2013 / Published: 23 July 2013
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Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Type of Paper: Article
Access to Parks for Youth as an Environmental Justice Issue: Access Inequalities and Possible Solutions
Alessandro Rigolon and Travis Flohr
University of Colorado Denver, USA
Although a consistent body of research has shown that repeated contact with nature helps foster mental and physical health among children and youth, their contact with nature has been diminishing due to increased traffic, barriers created by arterial roads, and out-of-home-range park locations.  Undoubtedly, low-income and ethnic children have even less contact with nature than white middle-income children due to lack of available green spaces and recreational opportunities and also safety concerns in their communities.  Furthermore regardless of income level, children’s perceptions of parks and their benefits differ depending on park design.  Yet limited research has looked at the particularities of park design or at vulnerable children's use of parks.
The study reported in this article seeks to address these gaps by proposing a new  classification typology that takes into account park design and income level with a goal of improving access to parks for low-income children and youth.  We chose Denver, Colorado as a study site because various groups that advocate for improving low-income children’s health have expressed concern about a lack of green spaces in the city's low-income neighborhoods.  Accordingly, we compared accessibility to formal and informal play in parks for children and youth from different income and ethnic backgrounds in six neighborhoods in Denver.  Expanding a methodology we piloted earlier, park accessibility for children and youth was measured through a weighted spatial network analysis using geographic information systems (GIS).  Walkability studies were used to predict route preferences.  Each neighborhood was classified according to income level (low, medium, and high), residential density, and distance from downtown (inner city, and suburbs); and then each park was classified based on formal and informal play through mapping and site visits.  To measure equity of access, we used census blocks to record household income, percentage of non-white population, percentage of people under 18, and geo-referenced crime records; we used floor area ratio (FAR) and population density to control for private yard play space.
The article reports comparisons within and between neighborhoods and proposes a plan for action to improve access to parks for low-income children and youth, including a suitability analysis tool to help planners and decision makers select locations for new parks and add new play facilities to existing ones.  Also, the plan highlights the role of public-private partnerships between the city and advocacy groups in improving children’s health in the city of Denver, including initiatives to make parks in low-income areas safer.

Type of Paper: Article
Urban blue space and “the project of the century”: Doing justice on the Seattle waterfront and for local residents
Anne Taufen Wessells
University of Washington, Tacoma, WA, USA
Urban blue space [1] is increasingly embraced by cities as a specific and valuable genre of public space, valued for its economic, symbolic, and experiential place attributes. This article takes up the concept of urban blue space from a design perspective, extending and exploring it through a critical social science lens (see e.g., [2]). Using the reconfiguration and redesign of the central Seattle waterfront as a case example, the idea of “doing justice” is enlisted to examine not just the design opportunities and formal characteristics of the site, but also the patterns of privilege, access, and regional socio-ecological equity that are raised through its redesign. After situating the extraordinary design opportunity presented by this iconic urban blue space, and the imperative to do justice to the waterfront’s physical situation, the article presents the site from four additional and discrete perspectives: economic justice, environmental justice, social justice, and tribal justice. By thus foregrounding the urban political ecology [3] of the waterfront, the article demonstrates that the most important challenge of the site’s redevelopment is not technological, financial, or administrative – although these are real, and significant challenges – but rather the need to construct a place that works to counter established patterns of local and regional injustice. In Seattle as in other coastal port cities, urban blue space is a shared public and environmental good, with unique and demanding governance responsibilities for its conceptualization and development.
[1] Brand, D. Bluespace: a typological matrix for port cities. Urban Design International 2007, 12(2-3), 69-85.
[2] Wessells, A. T. The Ultimate Team Sport?: Urban Waterways and Youth Rowing in Seattle. In The Paradox of Urban Space: Inequality and Transformation in Marginalized Communities; Sutton, S.E., Kemp, S.P., Eds.; Palgrave Macmillan: New York, NY, USA, 2011.
[3] Keil, R. Urban Political Ecology. Urban Geography 2005, 26(7), 640-651.

Title of Paper: Article
Title: The Evolution of Fourth World Theory
Author: Olon F. Dotson
Affiliation: Ball State University Muncie, Indiana, USA
Abstract: Fourth World Theory is a methodology for examining and developing greater understanding of the extent of the distress and abandonment commonly found in the cores of American cities resulting from de-industrialization, historic segregation and discrimination patterns, suburban sprawl, erosion of a viable tax base, racism, inability to embrace the concept of desegregation and civil rights legislation, fear, despair, crumbling infrastructure systems, disinvestment in urban school systems, and environmental justice issues. The methodology clearly demonstrates how the social construction race has, and continues to, systemically undermine each and every aspect of the overall quality of life in many American cities. In a manner similar to Critical Race Theory, Fourth World Theory is a critical investigation of society and culture though an analytical lens, and an examination of the structural and cultural forces that have contributed to the severely distressed conditions commonly found in inner city communities. It also argues that continued absence of reflection in this regard, places the American empire in serious jeopardy of self-induced, ultimate, and eminent collapse under the weight of its own history. This paper examines the evolution of Fourth World Theory, from being merely a rudimentary and descriptive notion of a particular, often severely distressed condition of place, to a more critical investigation of space. It shows the ever-evolving dimension of spaces throughout the country that are engaged in a perpetual metamorphosis in direct response to the various cultural and structural forces shaping American cities. The paper concludes that Fourth World space falls into a canyon that lies between spaces and places occupied by those who have been, and continue to be guaranteed to have full access to the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the spaces and places inhabited by the Wretched of the Earth.

Type of Paper: Article
Detroit Civic Engagement: A Strategy for Blending Community and Expert Knowledge
Toni L. Griffin *, Dan Cramer and Megan Powers
The Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, New York, NY 10027, USA
: In January 2013, civic leaders, community stakeholders and residents came together for the release of Detroit Future City, A Strategic Framework Plan for transforming Detroit from its current state of population loss and excessive vacancy into a model for the reinvention of the post industrial American City. The Strategic Framework was the product of an ambitious, three-year effort to blend technical analysis and community expertise. It represents a shared vision for the future of the city’s economic health, land use reform, neighborhood revitalization, public service delivery, management of abandoned lands, and elevation of civic capacity to implement and sustain change.

To rewind the clock back to the beginning of the planning process in 2010 is to find a community on the verge of accepting some harsh realities about it current condition. In 2010, the city had just elected a new mayor through a special election to fill the seat of the recently indicted Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. The 2010 census reported that the city had lost 24 percent of its population over the last decade, and within that same time had experienced a 20 percent increase in the amount of vacant and abandoned property, bringing the city’s total vacancy to 20 square miles, roughly the size of Manhattan.

In addition to the physical and economic challenges, Detroiters had also acknowledged significant barriers to effective civic engagement in the city. Foremost among these were a profound sense of immobilization, planning fatigue, and common sense of cynicism about planning and engagement efforts. In addition, historic racial dynamics and tension, as well as a fragile and somewhat compartmentalized local nonprofit sector, also affected the capacity for local engagement efforts generally to achieve both scale of reach and depth of outcomes. However, the resiliency of residents, a vibrant faith community, neighbor-to-neighbor organizing, and a sense of readiness for transformational change in Detroit were among the strong assets for engagement that were identified as well.

Not only was change needed to heal the physical and fiscal conditions of the city, the civic culture of the city also required transformation. In order for any citywide planning process to be successful and sustainable, establishing a process for designing and implementing meaningful civic engagement and discourse was paramount to creating a shared vision for Detroit. Civic leaders and project funders were committed to investing in a planning initiative that would be different from previous efforts in large part because the “owners” of the process would be more diverse and inclusive across all sectors of the city including residents, city and state government officials, philanthropists, and representatives of local nonprofit, community and faith-based organizations, businesses, and institutions.

This article describes four of the key civic engagement strategies deployed in the creation of Detroit Future City and important lessons other communities might learn from Detroit's planning initiative. These lessons include:

  1. Designing a process that elevates community expertise, considering a broad definition of "community" that includes not only residents, but also multiple sectors and segments of community.
  2. Overcoming the challenges of culture, race, and politics through a deliberate strategy of rebuilding trust and enthusiasm as a core element of authentic civic engagement. Identifying broader and more collaborative ownership of the process to support wide participation and capacity building.
  3. Creating an ambitious vision for blending technical and community expertise at a citywide scale – effectively building the case for change and quality-of-life strategies, as well as lessons about overcoming the challenges inherent in the pace and complexity of the technical work.
  4. Viewing civic engagement as an ongoing two-way conversation rather than a series of large-scale episodic events – providing a wide range of opportunities and methods for people to interact with, learn about, and provide feedback to shape Detroit Future City.

The real ongoing task of effective civic inclusion for Detroit will be how it transitions from a participatory planning process that was about building trust and enthusiasm as well as soliciting input to inform the Framework, to now a new phase of "participatory implementation" -- enabling many people and organizations to be involved in owning, using, and driving the Framework. All sectors of the Detroit community must be involved in taking action at various scales, from neighborhood-scale tactical urbanism to citywide system-scale interventions and policy reforms.

Last update: 19 December 2013

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