Assessing the quality of urban public spaces from social justice perspective (Case study of Rasht, Iran)

Document Type : Research Paper

Authors

1 PhD student, Tabriz Islamic Art University, Tabriz, Iran

2 Associate Professor, University of Guilan, Rasht, Iran

3 Assistant Professor, University of Guilan, Rasht, Iran

Abstract

Extended Abstract
Introduction
The lack of attention to the issue of social justice in urban development has led to the emergence of affluent areas in contrast with impoverished sections within the cities. This has led to the formation of inequality in urban spaces and subsequently an increase in the social issues such as poverty, crime, insecurity and low environmental quality. Therefore, it is necessary the Phenomenon of social justice in urban spaces to be brought to the attention of urban planners and urban managers. In this respect, this research attempts to investigate the quality of urban public space among the different streets of Rasht, Iran from a social justice perspective.

Methodology
In this research, we are examining the quality of major streets in the city of Rasht (the largest city along the Caspian Sea shores in northern Iran), through classifying them in different clusters. Both quantitative and qualitative methods have been employed for data analysis to find out the level of the quality of streets and their difference among various parts of the city. The main data employed in this study comes from field data including direct observation, preparation of checklist and completion of questionnaires from the residents as well as record data from different organizations. We have used TOPSIS model for data analysis and GIS software for spatial analysis and mapping. After assessing the quality of urban space in each street, the difference among them (in the form of street clusters) and the level of resident satisfaction from their neighbourhoods (clusters) were determined. At the end, suggestions have been made to promote social justice and quality of urban spaces in the city of Rasht.

Results and discussion
Based on socio-economic situation of residential areas, first city of Rasht was divided into 11 relatively homogeneous clusters. Then the main streets in each cluster were selected based on their spatial, social and economic characteristics which included a total of 51 streets. To evaluate the spatial quality of streets we used 10 main criteria and 48 sub-criteria. The main criteria included: 1) quality of greenery, 2) interactions and social characteristics of space, 3) quality of furniture and environmental equipment, 4) quality of sidewalks, 5) accessibility to other parts of the city, 6) quality of activities on the margin of street, 7) identity and sense of belonging, 8) street safety, 9) quality of the building façade, 10) street signs and advertisements. Streets were evaluated based on the points they obtained in each criteria and in total in the evaluation process.
Results of TOPSIS analysis showed that none of the classified clusters in Rasht has the highest urban space quality. Findings indicated that cluster 11, (Golsar district) which is a newly built and planned district in the north part of Rasht, has the closest proximity to the desired urban space. After Golsar, cluster 6 which encompasses the main part of central district of Rasht, has the highest quality of urban spaces. The central part of Rasht is considered the economic, social, historical and administrative heart of Rasht. The higher building quality, along with proper urban furniture and extensive social activities have made this section of the city very vibrant and attractive urban space. The mid town Cluster of 7 is the another high quality urban space with relatively newer neighborhoods contains many cultural, social and recreational spaces such as the biggest city park, sports complexes, educational uses. These features have made it an attractive place for many especially youth. Also because of the proximity to southern districts of the city, it provides services for them. As a result, the spatial qualities such as greenery, urban furniture, quality buildings and wider sidewalks have made this district a better urban space in Rasht.
On the other hand, three districts (Clusters 1, 2 and 3) in the south part of the city mostly are occupied by low social class residents and contain the low quality streets and inappropriate urban infrastructure. These features have made them to have the lowest quality urban space in the city. Eastern districts which include clusters 4, 9 and 10 as well as clusters of 5 and 8 in the west part of the city which are relatively newly developed areas, have low to average quality of urban spaces in Rasht.
In this research, we also assessed the residents' opinion about the overall quality of their districts and the city as a whole. We evaluated their opinion about the quality of their living streets with respect to four components of satisfaction, friendship with environmental, comfort and environmental aesthetic. Also residents’ views were assessed about their satisfaction about the whole city. Both assessments showed that Golsar district (cluster 11) has the highest quality in the city followed by central district (Cluster 6). On the other hand, the southern districts especially cluster 1, has the lowest quality of urban space which correlates with the Topsis results.

Conclusion
This study revealed that there is a significant difference in the level of urban space quality among the streets of Rasht. This difference was recognized both through field observation and residents point of view. The inequality in the quality of public spaces in Rasht has led to the formation of a kind of social polarization in different parts of the city, so that Golsar as the affluent nighbourhood in the north part of the city has the highest quality of public spaces. On the other hand, the impoverished districts in the southern part of the city have the lowest quality of public spaces. In order to alleviate the inequalities of urban spaces among the different parts of the city, it is necessary for the urban planners and urban managers to put in priority the southern districts in development plans and upgrade the quality of their public spaces through the allocation of adequate funds for the improvement of urban infrastructure and promoting the existing social spaces for residents.

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Articles in Press, Accepted Manuscript
Available Online from 21 December 2020
  • Receive Date: 31 March 2020
  • Revise Date: 21 December 2020
  • Accept Date: 21 December 2020