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Spatial Justice

In the past decades, and even more so in the last ‘crisis’ years, issues of inequalities, oppression and domination are increasingly discussed and debated, particularly regarding social paradigms, policies and developmental models (MacLeod and McFarlane, 2014). Thus, the sense and the realities of injustice, as well as its amelioration, have become significant stakes not only for legal justice but for the broader terrain of social policy (Young, 1990).

The concept of spatial justice is in many ways important for the proposed research. On a first level, it is a useful tool for measuring inequalities in an urban context: if spatial justice simply means an equal access to those goods and services that the urban condition potentially provides, then inequalities indeed can be studied as they are expressed in practices of inhabitation. As Edward Soja claims, “Justice has spatial dimensions and the equitable distribution of resources, services and access is a basic human right” (Soja, 2010). UCLA’s Critical Planning group categorizes injustices as they are represented in space (Bassett 2013). This conceptualization of socio-spatial justice incorporates issues raised by UNESCO concerning poverty as a violation of human rights, and aims at expanding the notion and practice of rights by rooting them to the urban terrain (Carmalt, 2018; Delaney, 2016).

On a second level, connecting justice to space may be a gesture that re-conceptualizes both justice and the meaning of space (Marcuse et. al. 2009). Instead of merely adding spatial aspects to the functioning of justice, instead of projecting the results of social injustice on cities, spatial justice may become the term through which justice may be rethought (Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos 2007; Dikeç 2007; Iveson 2011). We know that laws are specific space-bound forms of regulation of human acts and behaviour. Jurisdiction is an immanently spatial term; it describes the area in which a certain law is valid and in which a certain authority has the power to enforce it. But justice and injustice are not simply expressed in space. They shape spaces and are shaped through and by space. Space is both a stake to be claimed and distributed through demands and acts of justice but also the means through which demands, claims and acts are shaped (Fincher and Iveson, 2012).

Spatial justice may thus help us study the different ways in which space is both shaped by claims and struggles for justice but also shapes ideas, dreams and models for justice. This will “shift focus from spatial manifestations of injustice to structural dynamics that produce and reproduce injustice through space” (Dikeç 2009; Marcuse 2009; Brawley, 2009). Spatial justice or injustice (or various grades of them) are being expressed and shaped through the spatiality of policies and the spatiality of agency. This is why we choose to follow a line of reasoning and research inaugurated by Henri Lefebvre’s notion of the “right to the city” (1996; see also Harvey 1996). This is not simply one more right that may be added for example to the right of privacy or to the right to health care or cultural dignity. It is not the right to live in cities and to enjoy what cities may theoretically provide to each and every one. It is the right to collectively reshape the city as a commonly produced work of art –as an “oeuvre” (Lefebvre 1996: 157,174) and not as a “product”. Lefebvre’s “right to the city” idea retains a crucial potentiality of the term of spatial justice: justice has to do with space but, more than that, justice is being shaped through practices that give form to space (also Mitchel 2003).

Spatial Justice


Reclaiming the city through practices of collective creativity, in line with Lefebvre’s reasoning, means reclaiming the city as commons. Movement struggles, organized citizen initiatives and alternative municipal policies are, in such a context, focused on an understanding of the city both as something to be shared (rather than appropriated by the most powerful) and as a means to develop practices of sharing.

David Harvey argues that commons is not “a particular kind of thing” but “an unstable and malleable social relation between a particular self-defined social group and those aspects of its actually existing or yet-to-be-created social and/or physical environment deemed crucial to its life and livelihood” (2012: 73). Building on this, Stavros Stavrides (2016: 54) argues that “Common space, however, may be shaped through the practices of an emerging and not necessarily homogeneous community which does not simply try to secure its reproduction but also attempts to enrich its exchanges with other communities as well as the exchanges between its members. Common space may take the form of a meeting ground, an area in which ‘expansive circuits of encounter’ intersect (Hardt and Negri 2009: 254). Through acts of establishing common spaces, the discriminations and barriers that characterize the enclave urbanity may be countered” (2016: 55).

Common space thus is the kind of urban space that emerges when city inhabitants enact their power to produce, define, develop and maintain spaces of sharing instead of spaces that exclude or discriminate. In common spaces urban commons are enacted. Any practice claiming spatial justice (including practices made possible due to specific urban policies) is necessarily related to claims about the urban commons.

Practices of defending the commons, “lead to collective experi­ences that reclaim the city as a potentially liberating environment and reshape crucial questions that characterise emancipatory politics” (Stavrides, 2015). In this way, the city becomes not only the setting for social mobilizations but, at the same time, the means for collective experimentation with alternative forms of social organisation in search for a more just world.

In sum, the proposed research aims to study the specific form of spatial justice that characterizes Athens during the years of crisis as a form dependent on the dynamics of urban claims and on the ways they interact with relevant policies. Placed at the intersection of the debates concerning spatial justice and urban commons our research questions may be shaped as follows:

How do policies connected to different definitions of urban resources as commons promote certain aspects of spatial justice in Athens?

How do urban movements and citizen initiatives reclaim their role in the shaping of common resources and the city space as commons?

How do both policies and citizen practices intersect or clash in their effort to define and control the urban commons (and the urban-as-commons) in order to implement or limit spatial justice?


New Municipalism

'New Municipalism' is a term used to describe an array of initiatives of self-government political entities that emerged both in Europe and in the rest of the world, aiming to create more just urban administration policies. The identity of this wave of urban movements can be summarized as follows: “…the novelty of new municipalism resides in a newly-politicised and radical reformist orientation towards the (local) state, in imagining new institutional formations that embody urban rather than state logics – be that through challenging traditional party politics with digitally-mediated citizen platforms; channeling economic development through non-state urban networks of anchor institutions and co-ops; or building autonomous federations of urban assemblies in place of the state.” (Thompson 2021: 318).

Under this new perspective, the commons are not specific resources, but a new way to manage any kind of resources as collective property, taking into account the community's interests as a whole. (Kotsaka, 2019)


A 'new municipalism' agenda appears in examples such as the Barcelona municipal administration of Ada Colau (Barcelona en Comú) and the Napoli municipal administration of Luigi de Magistris (Massa Critica). In both cases communal management, protection of the urban commons and citizen political engagement constituted critical aspects of their respective political programs.

New Municipalism

Right to the City

Participation in the formulation of proposals and decision-making concerning the management and production of the urban space is a process crucial to the definition of the 'right to the city' (Lefebvre, 2003/1990). However, it is important to clarify what the term 'right to the city' implies, at least in Lefebvre's perspective. As he notes, 'The right to the city manifests itself as a superior form of rights: right to freedom, to individualization in socialization, to habitat and to inhabit. The right to the oeuvre" (ibid. 173). Thus, "the right to the city" emerges "as a transformed and renewed right to urban life" (ibid. 158).

Clearly, such a formulation conceives of the city as a condition of social life that potentially involves its transformation according to the actions of those who inhabit it. This perspective becomes emancipatory when the inhabitants recover their right to direct this transformation themselves by developing collective creativity. Hence the term 'work' and not 'product': the city is the product of labour and the manifestation of needs, but also a work of art. "Art can be practice and poetry on a social scale: the art of living in the city as a work of art" (ibid. 173).

On the other hand, Lefebvre a little earlier writes about the right to the city not as a certain legal-political status, but as a continuous claim of urban dwellers (citadens instead of citizens) for their active participation in the social and political life of the city as well as in its management and production (see Dikec, 2001).

If it is participation that judges the actual relationship of residents to their right to the city, then it is participation that shapes citizenship in practice. As Lefebvre had already predicted, "The link between being a city dweller and having citizenship is inevitable in societies that are urbanising" (2003/1990: 253). Such a link favours a shift in the problem of social rights, and therefore the problem of establishing citizenship, from securing the guarantees of the state to the consolidation of possibilities within the context of urban life.

Right to the City
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