Urban blue space is increasingly embraced by cities as a specific and valuable genre of public space, valued for its economic, symbolic and experiential place attributes and essential to sustainable urban development. This article takes up the concept of urban blue space from a design perspective, extending and exploring it through a critical social science lens. 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 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 sustainable development.
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