Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The justice of spatial

Left image: Survival in a hard place: Flinders Rangers, SA.
Right image: Art work of spatial type in Seoul, South Korea.

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Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Geography Teachers' Association of South Australia website
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Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

"As an analytical tool, academic discipline and type of justice – the spatial has been disrespected and disregarded". Edward Sojo

It is often said that the world is “not a level playing field”. As geographers we are fully aware that things vary across space and that ‘things’ are not the same from one place to the next. In fact, this spatial diversity between and across counties, cities, suburbs or even streets are what makes geography fascinating for many of us. To know that we will always see change and diversity as we travel is the great stimulation of travel. However such spatial variation has recently been the source of much study and consideration by geographers. Geographers are interested in not only diversity across space, but the implications of such diversity and what can be done to reduce diversity if it is determined as detrimental to those occupying that space. This posting is about the growing field in urban planning, development geography and government services (to name just a few) of the concept of spatial justice.
When I first came across the term I scurried for the dictionary for the meaning of justice which means many things to many people. The aspect of justice which spatial justice focussing on is that of:
• the quality of being just; equitableness
• to act or treat justly or fairly.

When applied to the study of space, spatial justice as a term challenges geographers to quantify and consider the link between social justice and space. As Henri Lefebvre said in 1968;

“The organization of space is a crucial dimension of human societies and reflects social facts and influences social relations. Consequently, both justice and injustice become visible in space. Therefore, the analysis of the interactions between space and society is necessary to understand social injustices and to formulate territorial policies aiming at tackling them. It is at this junction that the concept of spatial justice has been developed.”

Spatial justice involves asking questions about spatial or socio-spatial distributions and working to achieve an equal geographical distribution of society's wants and needs, such as job opportunities, access to health care, good air quality, access to technology, education access etc. This is of particular concern in regions where the population has difficulty moving to a more spatially just location due to poverty, discrimination, or political restrictions. Not everyone has the capacity to relocate themselves to a more “spatially just” place. For example to move out of a ghetto, leave a poorly developed country, move from a remote region to a city. In fact much of the history of the last century has been the struggle of humanity to move to more ‘just places’, whether it be migrants trying to move to a ‘have’ Nation or the massive urbanisation processes as people move to cities from the country.

Spatial technology has played an important role in recent years to help quantify and visualise inequities across space. The power of spatial expressions of inequality lies in the visualisation capacity of maps and the ability to capture the powerful role played by geography.

Spatial justice resources are focused on providing statistical methods of representing, communicating and measuring spatial inequality. The use of data indicators related to health and services (number of employed medical practitioners relative to population, hospitals by separation from population, mortality rates by causes of mortality) have been powerful in showing the inequities that social justice geographers and policy makers are most concerned about.

As Sojo’s says in his book, Seeking Spatial Justice:
“justice has a geography and that the equitable distribution of resources, services, and access is a basic human right. Building on current concerns in critical geography and the new spatial consciousness, he offers new ways of understanding and changing the unjust geographies in which we live.”

Two projects from Australia are interesting in that they have been able to show the inequities of services across Australia and their implications to liveability of human settlements (human health and well being).

The liveability work by the Australian Government’s Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities used mortality, hospital access, aged care, disability services, mental health facility indicators to determine the non-surprising finding that:

“Access to most health workers is generally poorer in rural and remote areas than in the major population centers. Shortages are often more significant in outer metropolitan, rural and remote areas and especially in Indigenous communities.”

GISCA at Adelaide University developed an Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia ARIA which has been very influential in the development of government policy in addressing spatial justice issues across Australia in recent years. ARIA is an index of remoteness derived from measures of road distance between populated localities and service centres. These road distance measures are then used to generate a remoteness score for any location in Australia. Again, not surprisingly “localities that are more remote have less access to service centres; those that are less remote have greater access to service centres.”

Another project, this time out of the US is the Neighborhood Diversity Project. This is a web-based mapping project for exploring neighborhood diversity and transportation options. Users of the website can view Diversity Scores based on household income, family type, and ethnicity. The project used Census 2000 tract data for the Seattle-Tacoma, Washington-Baltimore and Chicago areas. Other related projects include dot density maps of poverty levels and a series of maps of racial/ethnic segregation for some of the largest US metropolitan areas.

All of these projects work from “the notion that justice is, and should be, a principal goal of planning in all its institutional and grassroots forms. As the work of the geography has progressed in this area it has become obvious that social inequalities do exist and that they are generally spatialized.”

More important than just showing spatial diversity and its implications is how we address the inequities across space. Urban planners and governments are certainly using the work of geographers researching in the area of spatial justice. The Australian Government is certainly using the work of GISCA with their ARIA index as they plan the future or Australia in terms of resourcing and servicing.
In summing up this area of geographical thought and work the Los Angeles Journal of Urban Planning says:

“Renewed recognition that space matters offers new insights not only to understanding how injustices are produced through space, but also how spatial analyses of injustice can advance the fight for social justice, informing concrete claims and the activist practices that make these claims visible. Understanding that space – like justice – is never simply handed out or given, that both are socially produced, experienced and contested on constantly shifting social, political, economic, and geographical terrains, means that justice – if it is to be concretely achieved, experienced, and reproduced – must be engaged on spatial as well as social terms.”

As a practical demonstration of the role of spatial technology, the area of spatial justice is an interesting one to explore for the geography classroom. In fact on the scale of a suburb, we can see significant diversity across space and the concentration of services and resources in certain areas. This would be an interesting GIS project for a class to map the services across a suburb and then develop a crude index of remoteness on the suburban scale - and to explain the reasons why such spatial variance occurs and what can be done to redress the inequities with a spatial justice headset.

1 comment:

Sue Jones said...

We read with interest your blog concerning spatial justice. As we are currently writing from the Gold Coast and wondering how these ideas/theories apply to a recent development such as the coast which is almost purpose built and focusses on tourism, property development and wealth?
Interestingly prime real estate does not necessarily geographically relate access to medical, educational or retail services.
This would certainly be an interesting focus for further investigation for anyone situated on the Gold Coast?