Contestation in cities is a stubborn and complex problem that both reflects and impacts upon planning and on the lives of those in neighbourhoods. Because “land is central in shaping relations between municipal representatives and citizens” (Hagberg & Körling 2016: 295), contestations over urban territories not only structure and restructure spatial relationships, they also bring people into social conflict with others in community and with government decision-makers and systems. Such contestation “is not about equally strong bodies on a flat ontology but about unequal bodies on a tilted surface” (Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos 2015: 5) and unequal bodies often experience the outcomes of justice in different ways. This is particularly true given the status quo system of conflict resolution in our cities — a retributive and antagonistic system that focus on argumentation, maintaining social distance between actors, enforcing procedural formality and relying on outcome-oriented rules and systems. Some actors, particularly those with resources and those who are confident in navigating legal and quasi-legal (e.g. planning) systems, have advantages in the contestations over urban space while others are routinely silenced, displaced and marginalised through such processes (Taylor 2013).
Is there a way to be more relational and restorative in our problem-solving around urban issues and urban contestation? Using the foundations of restorative justice practices and deliberative community engagement – the space “where all stakeholders affected by an injustice have an opportunity to discuss how they have been affected by the injustice and to decide what should be done to repair the harm’” (Braithwaite, cited in Lambert 2015: 297) – the Restorative Yarra research explores this question in an applied, action-learning and ethnographic manner.
The research partners and their goals
The research brings together the City of Yarra (CoY), the Neighbourhood Justice Centre (NJC) and the University of Melbourne (UoM) in a year-long inquiry that seeks to reflect on and synergise restorative and deliberative principles across practice networks and to experiment with restorative processes that address social inequity in ways that affirm difference, account for power and focus on the healing and repair of relationships.
The research poses the question:
How can cross-agency and inter-disciplinary collaboration advance and connect the knowledge bases of both justice and community planning areas in a manner that delivers on organisational goals as well as academic/theoretical ones?
It explores this question by working with practitioners in the Victoria Street precinct in Richmond/Abbotsford to see what the nexus of restorative justice and deliberative community might look like from the perspective of different actors and in a neighbourhood-scale approach to ‘restorative’ social justice.
This research is funded by the 2017 Graham Treloar Early Career Research Fellowship and a Faculty of Architecture Building and Planning Early Career Research Grant. The project is also supported by in-kind resources from industry partners.