Justice that Serves People, Not Institutions

Mirna Goransky, Buenos Aires. 
October 23, 2015

Many voices. Greener cities. Better cities.
See the full list of Essays
Introduction, Toni L. Griffin, Ariella Cohen and David Maddox Tearing down Invisible Walls Defining the Just City Beyond Black and White, Toni L. Griffin In It Together, Lesley Lokko Cape Town Pride. Cape Town Shame, Carla Sutherland Urban Spaces and the Mattering of Black Lives, Darnell Moore Ceci n'est pas une pipe: Unpacking Injustice in Paris, François Mancebo Reinvigorating Democracy Right to the City for All: A Manifesto for Social Justice in an Urban Century, Lorena Zárate How to Build a New Civic Infrastructure, Ben Hecht Turning to the Flip Side, Maruxa Cardama A Just City is Inconceivable without a Just Society, Marcelo Lopes de Souza Public Imagination, Citizenship and an Urgent Call for Justice, Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman Designing for Agency Karachi and the Paralysis of Imagination, Mahim Maher Up from the Basement: The Artist and the Making of the Just City, Theaster Gates Justice that Serves People, Not Institutions, Mirna D. Goransky Resistance, Education and the Collective Will, Jack Travis Inclusive Growth The Case for All-In Cities, Angela Glover Blackwell A Democratic Infrastructure for Johannesburg, Benjamin Bradlow Creating Universal Goals for Universal Growth, Betsy Hodges The Long Ride, Scot T. Spencer Turning Migrant Workers into Citizens in Urbanizing China, Pengfei XIE The Big Detox  A City that is Blue, Green and Just All Over, Cecilia P. Herzog An Antidote for the Unjust City: Planning to Stay, Mindy Thompson Fullilove Justice from the Ground Up, Julie Bargmann Elevating Planning and Design Why Design Matters, Jason Schupbach Claiming Participation in Urban Planning and Design as a Right, P.K. Das Home Grown Justice in a Legacy City, Karen Freeman-Wilson Epilogue: Cities in Imagination, David Maddox
10. GoranskyThe purpose of this essay is to share some considerations about the meaning of “just City” from the perspective of a lawyer dedicated to the reform of justice administration and, in particular, to the design of systems that promote, encourage and facilitate the approach of justice for the people. This historically means not only a change in the rules and culture but also a change in the design of the spaces in which justice is administered.

A just city is only achieved when its inhabitants have a sense of belonging, respect for the rights of others and for the place in which they live.
It is also written from the perspective of a city dweller from Buenos Aires, a city in which more than 3 million people live, and where 1.2 million cars and 1.2 million people in public transportation arrive every day from the suburbs. Traffic and traffic violations are one of the most serious problems and affect our everyday life in a dramatic way.

The guiding principle of these reflections is that a just city is only achieved when its inhabitants have a sense of belonging, respect for the rights of others and for the place in which they live. In no other aspect is this clearer than in transit, in which the disregard for the laws brings enormous cost not only in human lives but also can easily become a very heavy burden in everyday life, in which aggression and lawbreakers are the norm. For example, in Argentina it can be said that traffic rules are not respected and more than 7,000 people die each year in traffic accidents, and more than 120,000 are injured in varying degrees. This is one of the highest rates of mortality from traffic accidents and is significantly higher when compared with the rates of other countries in relation to their population and number of cars.

When I think of a just city there are some general issues that arise and are central to its development. First, is the need for an equitable distribution of resources among all the people and neighborhoods, in accordance to fairness.  Fairness does not necessarily mean equal amounts of money everywhere but an adequate amount of resources to ensure that people from all parts of the city have the same opportunities to enjoy the benefits of community life, including access to education, health, safety, justice, etc.

On the other hand, is important to assure the participation of all inhabitants in the management and administration of the city. A just city always has different ways to encourage its citizens to participate in the discussion of the problems that affect them and in the process of decision-making. Therefore there are accessible public spaces designed to appeal to neighbors and to foster community life.

In particular, a just city is a city in which everyone respects the general rules of coexistence, where respect of others and the environment is a shared value. This means some basic things, like speed limits and throwing trash into trashcans and much more complicated matters.

What is important though is that people follow the rules of the city because they recognize the city and its rules as theirs. This is why is so important to have a system that allows people to move around in a friendly environment, otherwise we will have a dangerous, aggressive and corrupt city — corruption starts with small bribes to transit agents.

A just city is also a place where everybody lives safely and the rights of all are respected. That means that ensuring security should not come at the cost of disregarding privacy and intimacy. With accessible new monitoring technologies, the boundaries between privacy and security become complicated. While having a camera on the dashboard of every police vehicle seems like a good idea, the over-extension of surveillance should be at the center of the debate between politicians and inhabitants if we are going to build a just city. Sometimes better lights, more illumination, are all we need to make ours streets more secure and to invite people to walk around at night.

And a just city is conceived and designed for their people to have a simple, economic and fast access to the different areas of public administration. In particular, those responsible for the administration of justice: police, courts, prosecutors, defenders, prisons, etc. The design of each court, each police department and each place of incarceration deserves special attention to ensure that they serve their purpose. For example, the courts must allow the public to sit comfortably and see the way justice is done; the places of incarcerations must assure the dignity of the prisoners; the police departments needs places where victims of crimes can be properly heard, protected and assisted.

Very often judicial buildings are chosen and designed by lawyers formed in systems where justice is kept away from the people. Consequently the buildings are located and designed to meet the needs of those who administer justice and not to those who need justice. Often these buildings and offices are true labyrinths inaccessible for regular people. For example, in Buenos Aires, the Federal Building is far for everything and there is nothing around it — no place to meet people, to have a coffee, is dangerous at night, etc. Buenos Aries’ Justice Palace is a complicated labyrinth were visitors routinely get lost. Only a few years ago an NGO won a case that ordered ramps be built for disabled people entering the building.

In a just city, justice is at the service of the people and with that purpose there is a network of public transportation that communicate all the public services with the different areas of the city, has understandable signs to facilitate the access to the different offices, and has systems that enable the access of people with different capacities. That is why is so important to decentralize the courts and the prosecutors’ offices. Years ago I was in charge of a unit that lead programs in connecting the prosecutors with the community, in the reorganization of the Prosecutors Institution and in the launch of the first-ever decentralized prosecutors office in Buenos Aires. The main goal of all these projects was to strengthen the idea that justice is a public service and to work with people of other disciplines to design institutions that fulfill the needs of all.

And last but not least, a just city is a city that chooses to remember and share its history with the generations to come and exhibits its past in memory sites, in public places in which, at the same time, democratic values ​​and human rights are promoted. In Argentina there are many places where we can learn about what happened during the dictatorship that ruled my country from 1976 to 1983. Clandestine centers of detention where people was detained, tortured and killed are now museums or memorial sites that allow us to know what happened and to say that this will never happened again, never more.

Mirna D. Goransky
Buenos Aires

The Just City Essays is a joint project of The J. Max Bond Center, Next City and The Nature of Cities. © 2015 All rights are reserved.

Mirna Goransky

About the Writer:
Mirna Goransky

Mirna D. Goransky is an associate at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard Kennedy School and a consultant of the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, New York City Bar Association. She is Deputy General Prosecutor of the Office of the National Attorney General in Argentina (currently on leave).

Mirna Goransky

Mirna Goransky

Mirna D. Goransky is an associate at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard Kennedy School and a consultant of the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, New York City Bar Association. She is Deputy General Prosecutor of the Office of the National Attorney General in Argentina (currently on leave). Since she joined the office in 1996, she has, inter alia, served as prosecutor of the Special Unit to Investigate Human Rights Crimes during the 1976 to 1983 dictatorship, in charge of the trials against those accused of crimes against humanity in the Navy School of Mechanics (Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada) and Operation Condor (the co-ordination to persecute political dissidents of Southern Cone military governments) from 2006 to 2012; prosecutor of the Criminal Policy Unit, leading programmes such as Community Relations and reorganisation of the Ministerio Público from 1996 to 1999; and prosecutor of the first ever decentralised prosecutor’s office in the City of Buenos Aires in 1999. She has been a consultant to the drafting of legislation to reform the criminal and criminal procedure codes in Guatemala for the Center for the Advancement of the Rule of Law, CREA/USAID, in 1996; a main researcher of the Project to Reform the Judiciary in Argentina, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development from 1993 to 1994; a researcher of the Project to Reform the National System of Criminal Procedure in Argentina, Secretary of Justice, National Government of Argentina in 1989; an expert consultant on judicial systems working on the implementation of the new criminal procedure system in Argentina, United Nations Development Program/International Bank for Reconstruction and Development from 1987 to 1988; co-ordinator of the Legislation Commission, National Commission against Narco-Traffic and Drug Abuse, Argentina, from 1986 to 1987; and main adviser to the Secretary, Dr. Jaime Malamud Goti, National State Secretariat, Argentina, from 1985 to 1987. Goransky holds a Law Degree from the Law School of the University of Buenos Aires, where she later worked as an associate professor teaching courses on criminal law and procedure and constitutional rights. She served as an independent researcher on a comparative study on the organisation and functioning of prosecutors’ offices in Argentina, Chile and the United States at the Justice Studies Center of the Americas. She has authored the book “Hacia un Ministerio Público eficaz, eficiente y democrático” (“Towards an Effective, Efficient and Democratic Prosecution, Editores del Puerto, Buenos Aires”) and has published more than 30 articles on criminal law and procedure, human rights and judiciary reform. She has given numerous lectures in various countries in Latin America on these issues and served as member of the editorial board of Nueva Doctrina Penal (New Criminal Jurisprudence, a law journal on criminal law and procedure and as editor-in-chief of Pena y Estado (Punishment and State, also a journal on criminal law and society). In 2013, she received the M.C. Bassiouni Justice Award. She is a founding member of the Instituto de Estudios Comparados en Ciencias Penales y Sociales (Institute of Comparative Studies on Criminal and Social Sciences) and a founding member and member of the board of the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (Association for Civil Rights).

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