Urban planning pioneer Toni Griffin wins award after subverting rules to highlight segregation
Toni Griffin, a leading visionary in the field of architecture and design, recently won the Design Competition for Chouteau Greenway in St. Louis despite subverting the intended aims of the competition.
Griffin’s proposal was inclusive of streets and pathways populated by historically marginalized people, connecting them and their neighborhoods to the landmark Gateway Arch which sits on the Mississippi River. Even though the competition stated that the “focus of the Chouteau Greenway project should be the main east/west connection,” Griffin approached the competition with her eye trained on rectifying long standing wrongs and correcting the practice of segregating the city by redlining.
Griffin is an urban planning professor at Harvard’s School of Design, and her work focuses on a search for the “just city,” which infuses city planning with a thoughtful eye towards matters of social justice and city access.
Griffin has led projects such as the Washington Nationals Ballpark District in Washington, D.C and the Detroit Future City master plan, and is the founding director of the J. Max Bond Center on Design for the Just City. In 2014, when Black students at the Harvard School of Design began to raise alarms that there was a dearth of courses dealing with race and design, Griffin communicated to the students that she had an abundance of them at her school in Harlem. The students convinced Griffin to come back to Harvard where she now serves as director of the Just City Lab, in addition to being a professor at the School of Design.
Griffin was also recently awarded the Richard Theodore Greener Award by Harvard’s Black Graduation Committee, an award named for the first African-American to graduate from Harvard. Her students worked with her to convert a toolkit she developed to help cities build out equity frameworks for growth into an installation titled “Design and the Just City,” which ran at the Graduate School of Design building last spring.
Griffin says of her work and the index she created in an interview with City Lab’s Brentin Mock:
“Our intention for the index, which is 50 values that we think promotes greater justice in cities, is as a tool that we want communities and cities to use to craft their own manifesto for what justice means to them. We created this because we often saw that frameworks around sustainability and resiliency usually have a set number of principles that suggest, no matter what context you’re in, you have to achieve these principles in order to be resilient or sustainable.”