What do we mean by fairness in cities?

What do we mean by fairness in cities?

Danny Dorling and Richard Brooks reflect on what fairness really means – from social justice to pure luck

London is now home to more rich people than any other city in the world and benefits from tremendous economic, social and cultural vibrancy. But the city is also home to serious poverty, deprivation and social exclusion, and faces challenges in housing, transport and opportunities for young people.

What is fairness? What would count as a fair city? What would it take to make London the fairest city in the world? The principle of fairness is not easy to apply. Radically different religions and political systems incorporate an idea of fairness. Politicians across both left and right all claim fairness for their approach.

So how can fairness be understood? The classic distinction is between equality of outcomes, resulting in a uniform distribution of goods and equality of opportunity (setting up a fair race).

Fairness as equality proceeds from an objection to gross disparities in income, wealth, power and freedoms. A billionaire simply cannot personally enjoy his wealth so much as a thousand millionaires, and the same sum of money could build new homes for more than 10,000 families.

But there is also public support for the idea that if people “work hard and save,” then they are fairly entitled to their resulting wealth. So the opposite of fairness is not inequality. What is more controversial is the fact that the opportunities of affluent people – and the opportunities of their children, family and friends – are then enhanced by that wealth.

Fairness is also related to ideas of justice. The most basic relationship between fairness and justice is the principle of fair treatment before the law and as subjects of state authority. The high rate of stop and search operations carried out on young black people is widely seen as unfair, as is the low level of criminal sanctions imposed on those apparently abusing positions of great economic power. How many bankers have been imprisoned for breaking the law? How many black people have died in custody in the UK?