• Fourth Economy

Defining a Socially Just City


by Siena Baker, Navo Emmanuel, and Joe Skibbens



Hey there, reader! This blog post was written by Joe, Navo, and Siena - we’re the merry band of interns here at Fourth Economy. Between the three of us, our backgrounds range from international affairs to urban planning to environmental economics. What we have in common is a shared interest in equitable development and an appreciation for understanding the overlapping economic, social, and political systems that affect peoples’ lives.


After noticing common themes arise in our conversations, we began asking:

  • What do programs and policies look like when a city makes a commitment to improving the lives of its residents?

  • How should city leaders go about making systems-level changes across intertwined issues such as access to affordable housing, healthcare, wealth-building, and jobs that pay fair wages?

  • What are successful models of citizen participation in community decision making?

A Socially Just City is a city where concern for human rights is institutionalized using an equitable economic development framework in all levels of policy making, and where communities are actively engaged in the development and unrestricted cultivation of wealth, health, and the pursuit of collective happiness.

Looking to the Future

The groundswell of grief and outrage following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many other Black folk both before and since this past June signals, for many Americans, an overdue awakening for the need to recognize and demonstrate that Black lives do matter.


We have to acknowledge the extent to which Black folk face ever-present, systemic anti-Black racism. While the threats posed to Black life by white supremacy certainly take form in the rampant criminality and unaccountability endemic to American police departments, we must also confront racial and social injustices in all of our economic and political institutions.


As we continue to grapple with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing economic recession, we remain in suspense about what the future will look like. While it is tempting to long for a ‘return to normal’ when a potential COVID vaccine is publicly deployed, lasting setbacks due to lost income, depleted wealth, and accumulated debt — compounded by additional barriers like food and housing insecurity or lack of access to healthcare — will likely continue to plague economic recovery for years to come. The pandemic and recession will continue to inflict disproportionately high burdens on Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and other historically marginalized and economically vulnerable communities. Our response must be informed by an awareness that the health of our economy depends upon a robust social safety net that protects our most vulnerable community members.


Inequities in access to and the quality of treatment within healthcare systems, disparities in job recovery and opportunities to build wealth