Kathputi dweller, New Delhi, photo by Jordan M. Jones (2013)

What’s Spatial Justice?

One of the first proponents of the idea of spatial justice was Edward Soja (2010) as he stated that Spatial Justice:

“(…) seeks to promote more progressive and participatory forms of democratic politics and social activism, and to provide new ideas about how to mobilise and maintain cohesive collations and regional confederations of grassroots social activists. (…)

Spatial justice as such is not a substitute or alternative to social, economic, or other forms of justice but rather a way of looking at justice from a critical spatial perspective’ (Soja, 2010, p.60).

In this perspective …

“the spatiality of (in)justice […] affects society and social life just as much as social processes shape the spatiality or specific geography of (in)justice. (Soja, 2010a, p.5).

Social Justice is undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges of our times, as rampant inequality erodes the fabric of our societies everywhere, undermining trust in governments, leading to violence and extremism and eating at the very core of democracy.

Growing inequality, socio-spatial fragmentation and lack of access to public goods are threats to  the sustainability of our cities, especially when we consider sustainability in its three fundamental dimensions (social, economic and environmental).

But when discussing how social justice happens in urban spaces, we prefer to use the term SPATIAL JUSTICE, because we find it useful to focus on the spatial dimension of the fair distribution of the burdens and benefits of urban development, and on the particular manner this distribution is managed. This management happens through formal institutions, such as planning systems, but also through informal institutions, such as the informal agreements and cultural attitudes towards urban space.

Spatial Justice is a relatively new concept that focuses on mainly two ‘types’ of justice: distributive justice and procedural justice. On one hand, distributive justice is sought through the creation, fair allocation of and access to public goods, resources and services throughout the city. You can read more about the distributive dimension of spatial justice HERE.

On the other hand, justice or injustice can also be found in how cities and communities are negotiated, planned, designed and managed. Justice or injustice can be found in the procedures of negotiation and decision-making. For example, planning processes that are transparent and allow some form of participation are bound to be more just than those which don’t. This is because the incorporation of multiple voices in decision-making processes increases the chances that the wishes, needs and desires of those voices are integrated in decision-making. You can read more about the procedural dimension of spatial justice HERE.

Spatial Justice is also an evaluative framework that enables action to improve our cities and make them more liveable and socially sustainable.

This is crucial in order to promote more equitable and fair societies and to promote the full realisation of human potentials. On one hand, cities in the developing world are far from offering those conditions to most citizens. Meanwhile, cities in the developed world are becoming increasingly more unequal and spatial opportunities are becoming more concentrated in certain prime spots. While gentrification can lead to some positive effects, structural gentrification of the type experienced by cities like London, New York or Amsterdam can lead to dire social problems, such as unaffordable housing, increased commuting, fuel poverty and many others.

Spatial Justice is also intimately related to the concept of Life Chances, which is the ability of households and individuals to access educational, economic and environmental opportunities and to design their lives upwards.

SPATIAL JUSTICE is an essential element of SUSTAINABILITY, understood the integration of SOCIAL, ECONOMIC and ENVIRONMENTAL DIMENSIONS that will allow future generations to enjoy healthy and happy lives.

SPATIAL JUSTICE is an essencial element of democracy. In order to achieve spatial justice, we must work towards sustainable governance, fair redistribution of resources and spatial benefits and opportunities. These things will be more easily achieved through democracy and participation.

* Image: Kathputi dweller, New Delhi, photo by Jordan M. Jones (2013). Photo reproduced here with special permission from the author,

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