CAPS (Canadian Association of Planning Students) Conference !

CAPS (Canadian Association of Planning Students) Conference !

Right to the City Montreal will be participating in the CAPS Conference – to be held in Montreal at L’Universite de Montreal, McGill, UQAM, and Concordia in February !

We will also be tabling at the conference with some of our lit, resources, and information during the 1st to the 3rd.

More info on the conference can be found on the CAPS webpage and on the Canadian Institute of Planners website.


Urban Spatial Justice

What is Spatial Justice?

Spatial justice brings together social justice and space. Specifically, urban spatial justice focuses on urban city areas. How space is organized is a crucial dimension of human societies, reflecting social realities and (in)justices while also influencing social relations (Henri Lefebrve, 1968, 1972).

Therefore, to understand and attempt tackle social injustices, a close look at space and society is needed. Where space and society meet, the concept and practice of urban spatial justice is developed.

As a fundamental dimension of human societies, space is intrinsically embedded with social justice issues, realities, and conflict. Spatial justice as a concept can be a useful guiding tool to understand and reflect on solutions to social injustices that are embedded in the fusion between space and society.

Spatial Justice and Urban Planning

Spatial justice as a concept and practice is one often seen as ‘taken for granted’ and rarely questioned in urban planning, especially since the work of American radical geographers in the ’70’s and ’80’s (see for example David Harvey, 1973). It is often taken for granted as the end goal of many planning initiatives and projects, although this can be and is often publicly contested, as in the case of gentrification (or ‘revitalization’) efforts- which we see clearly as acts of spatial injustice committed against poor and/or multiply-marginalized populations as they are indirectly or forcibly evicted and displaced from their homes and communities as these are bought and sold like any other merchandise within neo-liberal economic context, with the sole goal of turning profit. This market logic is in direct conflict with the concept of shelter (and community) as a human necessity, no less a human right.

Similarly, spatial justice is can also be argued to include, or be in parallel with, concepts of environmental justice and equity. These include concerns of environmental sustainability, and the spatial overlap between racial discrimination, the spatial patterns this produces, and the coupling of these spaces with industrial pollution, socio-economic exclusion, and susceptibility to natural hazards.

Recent Debates: Two Currents of Thought and Practice

In the past few years, there has been a rising interest in the concept of spatial justice, and several key events and publications rooted in human and social sciences have emerged[1]. There also seems to be have been a clear split in perspectives surrounding social justice. Polarizing the debate, and informed by the work of several famous Justice philosophers (particularly John Rawls, and Iris Marion Young), there are two contrasting schools of thought.
One centers redistribution issues, while the other focuses on decision-making processes.

The set of approaches that centers concerns over spatial or socio-spatial distributions works with the aim to achieve an equal spatial (and geographical) distribution of the wants and needs in a society. These can include factors such as access to health care, education and job opportunities, as well as good air or soil quality, among others. The distribution of these elements becomes a particularly important concern in regions where the population is unable or has difficulty moving to a more ‘just’ location, spatially, due to numerous factors – such as discrimination, poverty, or political restrictions (such as apartheid pass laws). In the ‘Global North’, we are also seeing the trend of increasingly limited access to many spaces (such as the ‘fortress impulse’ that is the gated community), and public spaces (with the mass privatization or semi-privatization of public land and space). In the distributive justice school of thought, it is the access to these goods or social opportunities that sets the indicator for whether a situation is spatially just or not.

The second way spatial justice is often approached is with a focus on decision-making procedures. This approach opens up the possibility for analyses and understandings of representations of space(s), identities (territorial or otherwise), and social practices. For example, this approach would allow moving beyond a universalist approach in which all people(s) are treated as one and the same, thus erasing existing disparities. A focus on minority or marginalized populations or peoples in this case would allow for an exploration of their spatial practices, and also how these are experienced and managed by them and other actors. This might lead to revealing experiences and forms of discrimination or oppression that would have otherwise been by-passed.

In simple(r) terms, the first approach asks questions about spatial distributions because justice in this case is evaluated based on ‘results’ on the ground. The second approach asks questions about space representations, identities, and experiences because justice here is defined as a process.

Spatial Justice and Right to the City Montreal

In our work, Right to the City Montreal is in many ways quite rooted in the notion of urban spatial justice (and the working towards it) as a process, and one that values and needs to take into account the real, lived experiences and identities of the peoples with whom we are working in solidarity.

While we by no means have the capacity necessary to take on projects of spatial justice analyses at a large or ‘urban’ scale like planners, our belief in the ‘right to the city’ for all peoples is rooted in the goal of all people(s) being able to be empowered to autonomously shape themselves and their city through active participation and urban citizenship.

While practical, a universalist ‘results’-driven approach fails to take into account the spatial and social complexities constantly at work, and continually being (re)produced and (re)created in the urban environment, as in all environments. Because of this, our group’s approach to urban spatial justice is more in line with the set of process-based approaches. Although a documentation and analysis of existing distributions of good and opportunities is very important in its own right, and is a key step, these should be overlaid with the real social and spatial landscape and complexities of the identities, lives, and needs of peoples on the ground in order to be truly meaningful and just

[1]. These recent events and publications include: a conference on concept of spatial justice held at the University Paris-Ouest Nanterre, France. Justice Spatiale/Spatial justice (a scientific Journal released in 2009), and a book written by Edward Soja in 2010 – Seeking Spatial Justice.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Colonizing the Inner City- Gentrification and the Geographies of Colonialism.

What is gentrification?

Gentrification is a complex and contested issue. While there are many, some times conflictual definitions of gentrification, some common themes hold true: In contemporary post-industrial cities, the trend is characterized by renewed development interest in disadvantaged inner city areas, and the influx of a new, wealthy (‘gentry’) population. Old housing is refurbished alongside the construction of new buildings and services that cater to the higher-earning and more privileged population that moves in. This ultimately means the ‘upscaling’ and transformation of the area and its demographics as higher home values, land speculation, and the area as a development ‘hot spot’ lead to the breaking of the community fabric via the violent uprooting and displacement of the area’s previous population, one often systemically disadvantaged and in a position that makes resistance to these processes difficult.


What is colonization?

Colonization is defined as the practice of invading other lands and territories for the purpose of settlement and/or resource exploitation, most often through violent means in a “war for territory”[3]. When talking about colonization and colonialism, it is important to avoid positioning these as being events of the past or (often) romanticized fictions- colonialism is “neither new nor limited to any specific historical period (i.e., the ‘colonial period’ of the 15th to 19th centuries)”[3]. To do so would mean the denial and erasure of the very real and current colonial processes at work today, and their consequences. Colonialism is a continuous, on-going project. Its forms and tactics may evolve over time, but its intention of domination, exploitation, and genocide of populations deemed inferior does not.


The right to the city and anti-colonial anti-gentrification

Gentrification represses the possibility of meaningful citizenship and right to the city for all people. The right to the city is not merely one of being allowed to exist or ‘hold space’ in an urban context (although with the threat of policing, displacement and homelessness, this is nevertheless crucial), but the “demand…[for] a transformed and renewed access to urban life”[2]

As David Harvey writes

Far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights. [2]

This vision is bent on the agency of all people – as individuals and in collectives- one that is meaningful, and essential to our capacity for autonomy and self-determination in our own formation and that of our environment and the dynamics that structure it.

We believe that a critical and explicitly anti-colonial and anti-racist look at gentrification’s root causes and upholding systems is essential to understanding and resisting it. Gentrification has been a popular topic in recent urban planning and geography work, however, analysese has been mostly focused along class lines. We recognize that class lines are inseparable from racial and gendered lines, among others, and it is important to situate gentrification processes within the geography of power structures at work, as continually (re)created and informed by the colonial context of the land we are on. Colonialism itself is also understood as having deep and vital ties to patriarchy and white supremacy, and as ever-changing. Neocolonialism as exercised through neoliberal and globalized economic processes and forms of governance is only the most recent of a multitude of forms colonialism has and can take on- by no means exclusive of one another at a given time.

Gentrification and colonialism are inseparable, and continually mutually reinforce each other. Though obviously case and context specific, common patterns of stages of colonialism emerge[3]- these include 1. recon, 2. invasion, 3. occupation, and 4. assimilation of the area’s original peoples by colonizers. These stages have fluid boundaries and are by no means separate in their operation at a given time. Canada was, and is, a colonial project, and this process remaps itself at smaller scales in processes of gentrification of inner cities and these emerge as battlegrounds, although in more nuanced ways. We are reminded of this every time systemically disadvantaged and repressed peoples are further displaced, and their citizenships revoked, as city (re)settlers take on the self-appointed task of (re)colonizing and ‘taming’ the ‘urban wilderness’ of the inner-city, and its peoples.

Defavorized areas and populations are structurally ‘maintained’ until they are ready to be harvested as settlements and resources by and for colonizers, with often devastating implications for those displaced and removed from their homes, communities, and in many ways identities.

We know that this process isn’t new. When talking about gentrification or, really, any topic taking place on ‘this land’, it is essential to acknowledge whose land this is. It is essential to acknowledge this land as stolen, and ‘Canada’ as a product founded and maintained through violent processes of colonialism and genocide- requiring continuous maintenance, repression, erasure, and re-writing of peoples and history . Gentrification is just one of the innumerable ways colonialism continuously manifests itself and serves this maintenance role- however, tangible links between gentrification and processes of colonization, as seen on the streets and in the populations that occupy them, stand out perhaps more easily than others. Anti-gentrification work is undoubtedly only part of a much larger and on-going project of decolonization, affirmation and realizing of indigenous sovereignty and agency, and continual unlearning and accountability on the part of settler-allies. It’s one we hope to take on.

Works Cited
1. David Harvey. 2008. The Right to the City.
2. Henri Lefebvre. 1968. Le Droit à la Ville.
3. Zig Zag. 2006. Colonization and Decolonization- A Manual for Indigenous Liberation in the 21st Century, Warrior Publications. (available for download here).

Tagged , , , ,