Spatial justice links together social justice and space. The organization of space is a crucial dimension of human societies and reflects social facts and influences social relations (Henri Lefebvre, 1968, 1972). 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.
Space being a fundamental dimension of human societies, social justice is embedded in it. So the understanding of interactions between space and societies is essential to the understanding of social injustices and to a reflection on planning policies that aims at reducing them. This reflection can be guided by the concept of spatial justice, which ties Social Justice with space. Spatial justice is a crucial challenge because it is the ultimate goal of many planning policies. However, the diversity of definitions of “Justice” (and of the possible “social contracts” that legitimate them), is high and the political objectives of regional planning or urban planning can be quite different and even contradictory.
Therefore, it is important to analyze the concept of spatial justice, which is still rarely questioned (particularly since the work of Anglo-American radical geographers in the 1970s–1980s  to the extent that it has been taken for granted. These past few years, several events and publications have demonstrated the rising interest of human and social sciences for the concept of spatial justice.
Spatial Justice between issues of redistribution and decision-making processes
The concept of Spatial Justice opens up several perspectives for social sciences. Building on the work of several famous Justice philosophers (John Rawls, 1971; Iris Marion Young, 1990, 2000), two contrasting approaches of justice have polarized the debate: one focuses on redistribution issues, the other concentrates on decision-making processes. A first set of approaches consists in 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, et cetera. 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 (such as apartheid pass laws). Even in free, developed nations, access to many places are limited. Geographer Don Mitchell points to the mass privatization of once-public land as a common example of spatial injustice. In this distributive justice perspective, the access to material and immaterial goods, or to social positions indicates whether the situation is fair or not.
Another way of tackling the concept of spatial justice is to focus on decision-making procedures: this approach also raises issues of representations of space, of territorial or other identities and of social practices. For instance, focusing on minorities allows to explore their spatial practices but also to investigate how these are experienced and managed by various agents: this may lead to reveal forms of oppression or discrimination that a universalist approach might disregard otherwise. In sum, depending on the chosen approach, either questions are asked about spatial distributions because justice is evaluated from “results”, or questions are asked about space representations, (spatial or not) identities and experiences because justice is defined as a process. Spatial justice stands as a unifying concept for the social sciences: its coherence stems from a reflection on the modalities of the political decision-making and on the policies implemented in order to improve spatial distributions.
The emergence of the concept of sustainable development has also fostered a debate on environmental equity. It questions our ontological relationship to the world, and the possibility of a fair policy addressing the needs of mankind, present and future, local and global, and of new forms of governance. The notion of “Environmental Justice” was created in the 1970s–1980s in North American cities to denounce the spatial overlapping between forms of racial discrimination and social-economic exclusion, industrial pollutions and vulnerability to natural hazards.
- See David Harvey, Social Justice and the City, 1973.
- A conference investigating the concept of spatial justice was recently held at the University Paris-Ouest Nanterre, France : http://www.justice-spatiale-2008.org/. Moreover, Justice spatiale/Spatial justice, a scientific Journal centered on Spatial Justice has been created in 2009: http://jssj.org/. A book focused on Spatial Justice has also been written by Edward W. Soja in 2010 : SOJA Edward W., 2010, Seeking Spatial Justice, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.
- BRAWLEY Lisa, «The Practice of Spatial Justice in Crisis», Justice spatiale | Spatial Justice, n° 01, september 2009
- BRET Bernard, «Rawlsian universalism confronted with the diversity of reality», Justice spatiale | Spatial Justice, n° 01, september 2009
- Coll., « Justice spatiale », Annales de Géographie, n°665–666, jan–avril 2009.
- Coll., “Spatial Justice”, Critical Planning, Volume 14 Summer 2007.
- DIKEÇ Mustafa, «Space, politics and (in)justice», Justice spatiale | Spatial Justice, n° 01, september 2009
- FAINSTEIN Susan S., «Spatial Justice and Planning», Justice spatiale | Spatial Justice, n° 01, september 2009
- HARVEY David, 1973, Social Justice and the City, London, Edward Arnold.
- HARVEY David, 1992, “Social justice, Postmodernism and the City”, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 16, 4, pp. 588–601.
- LEFEBVRE Henri, 1968, Le Droit à la ville, Paris, Anthropos.
- LEFEBVRE Henri, 1972, Espace et politique, Paris, Anthropos.
- MARCUSE Peter, «Spatial Justice: Derivative but Causal of Social Injustice», Justice spatiale | Spatial Justice, n° 01, september 2009
- PIRIE Gordon, 1983, “On Spatial Justice”, Environment and planning, A 15, pp. 465–473.
- RAWLS John, 1971, A Theory of Justice, Cambridge, Harvard University Press.
- REYNAUD Alain, 1981, Société, espace et justice, Paris, PUF.
- SMITH D. M., 1994, Geography and Social Justice, Oxford, Blackwell.
- SOJA Edward W., «The city and spatial justice», Justice spatiale | Spatial Justice, n° 01, september 2009
- SOJA Edward W., 2000, Postmetropolis, Critical Studies of Cities and Regions, Oxford, Blackwell.
- SOJA Edward W., 2010, Seeking Spatial Justice, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.
- YOUNG Iris Marion, 1990, Justice and the Politics of Difference, Princeton, Princeton University Press.
- YOUNG Iris Marion, 2000, Inclusion and Democracy, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
- What Makes Justice Spatial? What Makes Spaces Just? / Three Interviews on the Concept of Spatial Justice
- Just Space(s) Exhibition and Symposium Series on Spatial Justice co-organized by Ava Bromberg and Nicholas Brown, Fall 2007
- Critical Planning, UCLA Urban Planning Journal, Volume 14: Spatial Justice Summer 2007
- Justice Spatiale/Spatial Justice, a new journal, published in English and in French, by the University of Paris-Ouest Nanterre, France