The (un)Just City

Please post your reading response for Edward Soja, due Sep 12, 24 hours before class, here by replying. Thanks!

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4 thoughts on “The (un)Just City

  1. When I first glanced at Soja’s essay, I read: ‘The City of Social Justice’. Almost aware I would misread the title, he clarifies (in caps nonetheless) the specific term ‘Spatial Justice’. “In the broadest sense, spatial (in)justice refers to an intentional and focused emphasis on the spatial or geographical aspects of justice and injustice.” [1] Despite that, it is not an alternative to socio-economic justice, but rather a critical look at the underlying conditions of just and unjust geographies.

    As a relatively new term, Edward Soja aims to illustrate the importance of understanding the spatiality of justice and its different scales. He takes the time to distinguish the many variations that are often misinterpreted or included in the greater definition of a just society:

    “Either the spatiality of justice is ignored or it is absorbed (and often drained of its specificity) into such related concepts as territorial justice, environmental justice, the urbanization of injustice, the reduction of regional inequalities, or even more broadly in the generic search for a just city and a just society.” [1]

    He goes on to explain the fundamental shift in the way we now perceive space. It is no longer a fixed three-dimensional volume, but rather a tool capable of forming new social and political structures. The effects of this global realization have been widespread, “from archeology and poetry to religious studies, literary criticism, legal studies, and accounting” [1], and it is Soja’s belief that a sincere appreciation of justice as a spatial concept will enhance our knowledge of true equality, democracy, and civil rights.

    Although Soja notes three guiding principles when it comes to critical spatial thinking, it is what he refers to as socio-spatial dialect that directly reflects his definition of social justice. Essentially, it is the understanding that we as humans can impact our environment (in both a positive and negative way). We are all social actors engaged in our geography, taking part in writing our collective history. Further, we identity with our surroundings and these conditions influence our social behaviour.

    In this fashion, my initial misinterpretation of the title was not far from the truth. The social aspect in spatial justice plays a large role, however it would be unfair to leave it at that because “the spatial shapes the social as much as the social shapes the spatial” [1]. It is for this reason that Soja finds it essential to explicitly discuss spatiality and not simply sociality.

    Nevertheless, why is this relevant today? We can imagine that the recent urbanization towards major cities all over the world supports a new set of rules that coincide with the revival of Lefebvre’s ideas in ‘Le droit à la ville’ and Harvey’s ‘Social Justice and the City’. However, as we discuss ‘Spatial Justice’ in an academic setting, many are currently engaged in discriminatory geographical conditions, where this notion is a constant struggle with issues of class, race and gender. It is for this reason that a conscious awareness of these issues brought on in this essay and ‘Seeking Social Justice’ is vital to understanding the inequalities of our society and sustains universal human rights.

    1 Soja, Edward . “The City and Spatial Justice.” 56–72. Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Defense, 2008.

  2. Ideas about term’s matter “Spatial Justice”

    The true meaning of any title, mostly, disappears under the broad meanings of the original words that form it which later, relatively, determine its dimensions. Therefore, the first reading of the essays that talking about “spatial justice” gives impression that most writers try, firstly, to decode the combination of the new term which usually starts with “what is spatial justice”, then draw the shape of the subject. From this point of view, the terminological matter of spatial justice will outline the features of the subject.
    Most of us heard about the “spatial” and “Justice” in somewhere, but what is the unusual here is the merging between them which opens up a new notions. Phonetically, it is unheard of, but, surely, it is not odd. Let start with “spatial”. Briefly, it is relating to occupying or having the character of space while Justice is a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, equity or fairness as well as the maintenance or administration of what is just (1). Here, what does happen when two terms are combined together in new structure? The new combined term will hold most the meanings of the original words, and in same time it creates a new generation of concepts. This is what the writers, Edward Soja and Peter Marcuse, try to proof when they talk about the “spatial justice” in their introduction; they endeavor to reveal the potential meanings of the new term.
    Nevertheless, subjectively, I find the term “spatial justice” carries kind of contradictory in meaning which comes from the context of language itself. In other words, when we try to describe something, we give it an adjective such as “wide space”. But in our case the objective “spatial” fall on the “justice” while the speech is about the spatiality itself or at least on both equally. Maybe, that belong to the atmosphere that the term was made in, especially, if we know that the first use of it was through planers’ and geographers’ writings. This ambiguity leads to the next issue which related with the influences of “spatial justice”.
    The influence that I mean here what Josha mentions when he talks about the ideas that “spatial justice” revolves around. If the spatial justice has an ability to occur a change in the society, the influence of planners and architects on the society will exceed any disaster can be made by any solder or canon. And this what Edward Saïd states when talks about the geography in his book Culture and Imperialism
    Finally, is that halo about the spatial justice real or it is kind of geographical propaganda to grab more attention towards the role that geographers, architects and planners play? If we hypothesize it is kind of “propaganda”, there is a question will be raised here, who will be the beneficiary of all of that? If we accepted a small margin of this benefit will go to ordinary people, there will not be any problems because in all cases those people are losers. So, let them get some right rather than nothing.
    In brief, “spatial justice” is an idea. Although it embraces terminological discrepancy, it is pregnant with ethical values that focus on human right for living free and striving to increase the margin of justice.
    (1) Merriam Webster, Wikipedia

    Osama Al-Sehail
    W2 The in(justice) space
    CMT’s Student
    Sep. 12, 2013

  3. When I first glanced at Soja’s essay, I read: ‘The City of Social Justice’. Almost aware I would misread the title, he clarifies (in caps nonetheless) the specific term ‘Spatial Justice’. “In the broadest sense, spatial (in)justice refers to an intentional and focused emphasis on the spatial or geographical aspects of justice and injustice.” [1] Despite that, it is not an alternative to socio-economic justice, but rather a critical look at the underlying conditions of just and unjust geographies.

    As a relatively new term, Edward Soja aims to illustrate the importance of understanding the spatiality of justice and its different scales. He takes the time to distinguish the many variations that are often misinterpreted or included in the greater definition of a just society:

    “Either the spatiality of justice is ignored or it is absorbed (and often drained of its specificity) into such related concepts as territorial justice, environmental justice, the urbanization of injustice, the reduction of regional inequalities, or even more broadly in the generic search for a just city and a just society.” [1]

    He goes on to explain the fundamental shift in the way we now perceive space. It is no longer a fixed three-dimensional volume, but rather a tool capable of forming new social and political structures. The effects of this global realization have been widespread, “from archeology and poetry to religious studies, literary criticism, legal studies, and accounting” [1], and it is Soja’s belief that a sincere appreciation of justice as a spatial concept will enhance our knowledge of true equality, democracy, and civil rights.

    Although Soja notes three guiding principles when it comes to critical spatial thinking, it is what he refers to as socio-spatial dialect that directly reflects his definition of social justice. Essentially, it is the understanding that we as humans can impact our environment (in both a positive and negative way). We are all social actors engaged in our geography, taking part in writing our collective history. Further, we identity with our surroundings and these conditions influence our social behaviour.

    In this fashion, my initial misinterpretation of the title was not far from the truth. The social aspect in spatial justice plays a large role, however it would be unfair to leave it at that because “the spatial shapes the social as much as the social shapes the spatial” [1]. It is for this reason that Soja finds it essential to explicitly discuss spatiality and not simply sociality.

    Nevertheless, why is this relevant today? We can imagine that the recent urbanization towards major cities all over the world supports a new set of rules that coincide with the revival of Lefebvre’s ideas about ‘Le droit à la ville’, and Harvey’s ‘Social Justice and the City’. However, as we discuss ‘Spatial Justice’ in an academic setting, many are currently engaged in discriminatory geographical conditions, where this notion is a constant struggle with issues of class, race and gender. It is for this reason that a conscious awareness of these issues brought on in this essay and ‘Seeking Social Justice’ is vital to understanding the inequalities of our society and sustains universal human rights.

    1 Soja, Edward . “The City and Spatial Justice.” 56–72. Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Defense, 2008.

  4. MEMORIES AND THE CITY
    “Henri Lefbvre’s Vision” in Rebel Cities: From the City to the Urban Revolution by David Harvey

    “Man’s most consistent and on the whole, his most successful attempt to remake the world he lives in more after his heart’s desire. But, if the city is the world which man created, it is the world in which he is henceforth condemned to live. Thus, indirectly, and without any clear sense of the nature of his task, in making the city man has remade himself.”

    – Robert Park

    In the preface of Rebel Cities: From the City to the Urban Revolution by David Harvey, memories of the city during periods of societal change become a significant element of the decomposition of the concept of the Right to City described by Henri Lefebvre’s La Revolution Urbaine. The idea of recollection is evident throughout society in a rather collective way; memory becomes a dynamic phenomenon making the city into an undulating terrain of associations and memories. It is through these memories that a sense of longing emerges. Harvey describes this sense of loss “provoked by demolition, quarters re-engineered, grands ensembles erupting out of nowhere.” [1] It is through these spatialities of memory that the rhythms of a changing city become apparent.

    Although the Marxist theory never accorded the urban much significance, Lefebvre describes urbanism as a social practice, and it with this notion that the right to the city becomes a prominent element of the text. Written in the context of a city undergoing massive restructuring and before the 1968 irruption, the right to the city is described by Lefevbre as a cry as “a response to the existential pain of a withering crisis of everyday life in the city” and demand for “a command to look that crisis clearly in the eye and to create an alterna¬tive urban life that is less alienated, more meaningful and playful but, as always with Lefebvre, conflictual and dialectical, open to becoming, to encounters (both fearful and pleasurable), and to the perpetual pursuit of unknowable novelty.” [1] In Paris, in 1968, a social and political uprising took place in central parts of the historic city; a significant moment in which the people stood united surrounded by the ruins of a city they were desperately fighting for. It is this spontaneous coming together moment of irruption that Lefebvre describes as “a fleeting moment, the possibilities of a collective action to create something radically different.” [1] For Lefebvre, the right to the city involved not a return to the traditional but a renewed urban life.

    The longing of the past and presence of memory create the emergence of utopic desires within the city. In a sense, this nostalgia is for what had been lost and part forward-looking as a way to create a different kind of urban experience. The realization that the “old cannot last and that the new is soulless” creates a need within the people to re-imagine urban spaces from a utopian dimension. [1] The French poster from the 1970s created by the Ecologistes, a radical neighborhood action movement dedicated to creating a more ecologically sensitive mode of city living, depicted in the first paragraph of Harvey’s text best exemplifies this occurrence. The illustration showed an alternative portrait of the city; it was an old Paris “reanimated by a neighborhood life, with flowers on balconies, squares full of people and children, small stores and workshops open to the world, cafes galore, fountains flowing, people relishing the river bank, community gardens here and there (maybe I have invented that in my memory), evident time to enjoy conversations or smoke a pipe.” [1] In Notes for a Theory of Making in a Time of Necessity by Giuseppe Zambonini, the act of drawing “appears as a survey of a hypothetical found condition rather than documentation of some intention to build,” and it is in this way that “a drawing should be read to preserve utopian status in the cultural context that it proposes.” [2] Similarly, Harvey states that Lefebvre’s writings suggest that he would have possibly remained critical of nostalgia for an urbanism that has never been. Consequently, the right to the city becomes an “empty signifier” for Harvey. [1] In a way, the vision itself becomes like a memory, described as being “a spontaneous alternative visionary moment is fleeting: if not seized by the flood, it will pass.” [1]

    1 Harvey, David, “Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution”, 1-25, Verso, 2012.
    2 Giuseppe Zambonini. “Notes for a Theory of Making in a Time of Necessity.” Perspecta, Vol. 24. (1988), 2-23.

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