Definitions of spatial justice by members of the Spatial Justice network

Three-part approach

I would follow the three-part approach adopted in the environmental justice literature looking at distribution of outcomes, recognition of different communities and groups, and processes that are inclusive. I don’t focus on space per se but as I am interested in planning processes and this works through controlling and managing land use and land use change, the spatial dimension is implicit. (Yvonne Rydin, Professor of Planning, Environment and Public Policy, UCL, UK).

Enabling the fruition of rights

Spatial Justice links space, broadly understood as a complex of locations and relations, to the way that these relationships allow or forbid the fruition of rights. My definition is strongly influenced by Henri Lefebvre, Doreen Massey and Milton Santos. (Maria Fernanda Salcedo Repolês, Professor, Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil).

Recognition of use

I really like the definition from Soja (2009): “the fair and equitable distribution in space of socially valued resources and opportunities to use them”. I would add one more term: recognition to use space. So, we can have the three angles from Environmental Justice (distributional, procedural and recognition) on the question of space. I really like the idea not only to show the distributional effects of spatial injustice, but also the root causes of why we are here, what are the processes to reach this challenge (here I also go quite closely to the Pressure and Release Model (PAR)). (Thomas Thaler, Post-Doctoral Researcher, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria).

Equitable distribution of opportunities

For me, Justice refers to equitable distribution of opportunities and processes. Spatial Justice is something which relates to me via walkability and urban heat island phenomenon where space defines the physical and social consequences. Therefore, spatial justice could refer to processes which can provide solution and support all socio-economic strata. (Prasad Pathak, Associate Professor, Flame University, Pune, India).

Equitable distribution of opportunities

I understand SJ as both an analytical perspective and a normative goal. Analytically, I believe that the exploration of the justice (both procedural and substantive) dimensions is a necessary component of the study of the spatial organisation of society. Normatively, I understand SJ as a project of radical reform of patterns, modes and instruments of urbanisation. (Simone Tulumello, Assistant Professor, Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal).

Justice irrespective of where you are

Justice system irrespective of where you are and how you are connected to resources, infrastructure, knowledge and community network. (Buddhi Gyawali, Associate Professor, Kentucky State University, US).

The spatial components of inequity

In terms of Social Geography, we can point out at the relation of social phenomena, specifically inequities, and its spatial components. Furthermore, how society deals with these inequalities, through a type of redistribution, through planning, or can be seen in practices? Reviewing the definition of Spatial Justice, I can understand the influence from David Harvey, Neil Smith, and others beyond geography. But also from Milton Santos, Richard Peet, Myrna Breitbart, and Peter Kropotkin since they also talked about this issues of inequality. (José R. Díaz-Garayúa, Assistant Professor, California State University, Stanislaus, US).

Equity in distribution of various factors

Equity in the distribution of various factors across race, class, and other socio- economic and demographic characteristics. (Tony Reames, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan, Arbor, MI, US).

The space we live in has negative and positive effects on everything we do

Spatial justice involves “the fair and equitable distribution in space of socially valued resources and opportunities to use them” (Soja 2009). The space we live in can have negative as well as positive consequences on everything we do. (Boris Ricks, Associate Professor, CSUN-POLS, Northridge, CA, US).

The connection between law and space

Spatial justice is the connection between law and space. In this framework, space corresponds to social relation. Therefore, looking at law from the spatial justice perspective guides law to the contingencies of spaces, of relations. (Thaís Lopes Santana Isaías, PhD Candidate, Federal University of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil).

The spatial distribution of resources

The extent to which land ownership, land use patterns and spatial distribution of resources achieve social, environmental and economically equitable, just and fair outcomes. (Jessica Ferm, Lecturer, University College London, the Bartlett, London, UK).

Justice through the lenses of spatiality

It is an opportunity to rethink justice through the lenses of spatiality and materiality. Otherwise it is just a redundant adjectivization. (Andrea Pavoni, Researcher, DINAMIA’CET, Centre for Socioeconomic and Territorial Studies, Universidade de Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal).

Equal access

Equal access to maximum quality of life assets for all. (David Padgett, Associate Professor, Tennessee State University, Nashville, TN, US).

The spatial causes of social injustice

As all social processes, social injustice cannot be fully understood without contemplating the spatial causes of it. Spatial justice is therefore an aspiration when the roots of injustices are exposed spatially. Spatial justice is basically a political concept and as academics we should wrest to avoid its banalization (as with the right to the city) and to bring it beyond the academic walls and to stimulate its use in political practices. (Nuria Benach, Professor, University of Barcelona, Catalonia).

An analytical framework

Spatial justice is an analytical framework to study and explore the barriers to equal access to rights that are grounded in space; such as decent housing, economic opportunities, education, and health independent of race, ethnicity, gender, or income. (Deniz Ay, Research Fellow, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Brussels, Belgium).

The idea of equality to all locations

The recognition that diversity in numerous areas are arrayed in different locations and the idea of equality must be given to all of the locations. (Linda Loubert, Interim Chair in Economics, Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland, US).

Government by discussion

Spatial justice is the fair distribution of burdens and benefits of development, and the fair distribution of resources in the city, including urban space. It includes a distributive dimension and a procedural dimension (how and by whom the distribution is decided). Spatial Justice has a communicative dimension in which spatial planning can act as a tool for public reasoning, leading to some form of public justification. This is in line with the idea ofd a government by discussion by Amartya Sen, in which the outcomes are more likely to be fair if they include and empower the voices of the vulnerable. (Roberto Rocco, Associate Professor of Spatial Planning, Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands).

No difference in access

Where someone lives and /or works makes no difference to their access to key needs and rights in a city, in a country, in the world. (Laurence Piper, Professor, University of the Western Cape, Bellville, South Africa).

The reproduction of inequality

Spatial justice captures an acknowledgment of space as produced by (unequal) social relations. Space then reproduces the relations. Law, in regulating space, therefore produces relations. Unjust laws and legal systems produce unequal relations that endure and are reproduced by spaces even after the laws governing those spaces do not exist any more. Spatial justice as an approach opens up to the openness and possibility of space and views law in terms of relations. (Isolde de Villiers, post-doctoral researcher, Free State Centre for Human Rights, Bloemfontein, South Africa)

Social justice in space

Spatial justice refers as “social justice in space”, which integrates spatial dimension in the concept and theory of social justice. While social justice is concerned with the equal distribution of benefits and justice among groups and individual in different abilities, spatial justice embeds the physical space and environment itself as the production of social and economic process through spatial relationships. Hence, these processes need to be understood in the spatial context to change the processes of spatial relationships through inclusive and participatory form of voices and activism at the grassroots level. (Selima Sultana, Professor, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, NC, US).

Conflict between bodies moved by desire to occupy the same space at the same time

It is a notion different from for example distributive justice in a Rawlsian sense; I tend to follow the definition of Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (2015: 3) as ‘the conflict between bodies that are moved by a desire to occupy the same space at the same time.’ The notions of ‘right to the city’ and right to difference’ are at the centre of my understanding. Spatial justice is at the same time a conceptual idea, something that comes out of and relies on abstract thinking and reflection, but also something that has material force. Spatial justice even if an ideal that will never be achieved fully, should have a concrete part that could be ‘translated’ to everyday life. The extent to which spatial is relational is also of importance for my understanding of spatial justice. (Karin van Marle, Professor and vice-dean, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa).

Spatial Justice is situational and sensitive to differences

In our collective and interdisciplinary work within our research Program, we have been working on a definition of Spatial justice as the set of socio-spatial configurations, in a given place and time, through which the distribution of the benefits and the burdens of development in a given social group is conditioned and established, and the opportunities for access or not to the mechanisms (social, political, economic, among others) for the production or reproduction of these socio-spatial configurations. Spatial justice is therefore multi-scalar, circumstantial and relative depending on the subjects involved. Since it is debated in diverse, heterogeneous and unequal societies, spatial justice, far from being universal, is situational and sensitive to differences. Given that these societies are in constant evolution and change, spatial justice, far from being permanent, is dynamic and attentive to the processes that give rise to certain socio-spatial configurations. (Carlos Salamanca, Director, CONICET-UBA, Buenos Aires, Argentina).

Spatial Justice is the quest to overcome place-determined inequities

Spacial justice represents the quest to identify and overcome place-determined inequities that span multiple community identities, including race, ethnicity, class, etc.. (Craig Peck, Associate Professor, UNC Greensboro, NC, US).

Spatial Justice defined through the principles of democracy, diversity and equity

I define spatial justice according to the three principles of democracy, diversity, and equity. These, however, are abstractions, which lay out a desirable set of goals but do not indicate the process by which they can be reached. The first step towards their achievement is to change the discourse, to make people talk much more about justice. Professionally trained leaders, who have a commitment to values of equity and diversity, are needed to develop a policy agenda toward achieving more just outcomes. At the same time, pressure from beneath is necessary if officials in the public sector are going to be concerned about low-income people and minorities. (Susan Fainstein, Senior Research Fellow, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, US).

A complex and multidimensional phenomenon

I have not a clear definition of spatial justice. What I know is that spatial justice is a complex and multidimensional spatial phenomenon. It requires several elementary dimensions for its detection. It can vary in space and time. But, simplistically, it can be seen as a problem of uneven spatial distribution of resources and therefore as a problem of inequality of opportunity. (Federico Benassi, Researcher, Italian National Institute of Statistics (Istat), Rome, Italy).

Social justice thought with geographers’ tools and theories

It’s how we think about social justice with geographers’ tools and theories of space, and problematize space’s relation to social (in)justice. (Claire Hancock, Professor, Université Paris-Est Créteil, Paris, France).

Different life experiences

People experience life differently based partially on where they live, not just the city but the specific neighborhood, because benefits (jobs, health facilities, grocery stores, etc.) and costs (noise, pollution, disconnected streets, etc.) are distributed unevenly over space. Spatial justice would be the equitable distribution of benefits and costs across a geographic area either through location of those features or through easy access to resources elsewhere. (Elise Barella, Researcher, Wake Forest University/Community Design Studio, Winston-Salem, NC, US).

Control over how urban space is imagined

Spatial justice can be understood as people’s access and control over how an urban space is used, perceived, designed and imagined. (Ceren Sezer, DAAD Research Fellow, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany).

Boundaries redistribute political power

My interest in spatial justice derives from territorial inequality at local government level. Boundaries redistribute political power, with some organisations standing to gain power and others standing to lose power. Boundaries also influence communities’ access to local government services. Incorporation with richer jurisdictions can lead to a better standard of services while inclusion in poorer jurisdictions often leads to a lower quality of services. This inequality is generally more pronounced when there is fragmented local government. In South Africa spatial fragmentation was exacerbated by racially based local government, which led to massive disparities in levels of service provision. Thus it was that local government boundary demarcation became a key instrument in the transformation of apartheid urban systems. The Municipal Demarcation Board was trusted to dismantle segregated local government and create non-racial municipalities which would redistribute resources from the richer Whites parts of municipalities to underprivileged Black areas. (Robert Cameron, Professor, University of Cape Town, South Africa).

A question of ethical priorities

Spatial justice is the question that arises when two or more bodies (human or nonhuman) want to be in the same place at the same time. It is a question of ethical priorities: why am I here? Who am I excluding when I am taking up this space? It must remain a question and not a definitive answer, since the latter leads to fixed, coagulated atmospheres of legal and political priorities. (Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, Professor of Law, Westminster Law & Theory Lab, University of Westminster, London).

Physical and emotional space to feel safe

Spatial justice refers to physical and emotional space to feel safe, heard, and in control of one’s surroundings. “Space” could mean the physical, material resources of one’s own neighbourhood/community or “space” to express one’s voice through writing or other creative, agentive ways where their needs and stories will be heard, valued, and acted upon. (Keri Epps Mathis, Assistant Teaching Professor, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, US).

Case Studies

Resources on Spatial Justice

Here you can find a collection of resources on spatial justice suggested by the members of the network.

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“Group differentiation is both an inevitable and a desirable aspect of modern social processes. Social justice … requires not the melting away of differences, but institutions that promote reproduction of and respect for group differences without oppression”.

Iris Marion Young, 1990, p.47

“Like Iris Marion Young and David Harvey, he [Soja] begins with a depiction of injustice and considers that geography is ‘a significant causal force in explaining [inequitable] social relations and societal development’ (2010, p. 63). He argues that the pursuit of justice requires gaining control over the processes producing unjust urban geographies. He does not identify specific programmes to reduce spatial injustice but rather looks to coalitions of groups demanding the right to the city as the vehicles for achieving both greater material equity and also greater respect for marginalized populations.”

Susan Fainstein, 2014, p. 12

We are building shared understandings of Spatial Justice.