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Trajectories of spatial justice and actions to achieve it across Europe

Authors: Simone Piras, Margaret Currie, Dominic Duckett, Andrew Copus (Hutton); Paulina Tobiasz-Lis, Karolina Dmochowska-Dudek (ULodz)

This report presents the results of RELOCAL Work Package 8 ‘Coherence and scenarios’ in the form of a comparative analysis of mid-term (2030) spatial justice scenarios. The goal was to identify plausible changes in terms of spatial justice in the case study locations, the potential to achieve or improve it in a ten-year period, and to assess the mid-term effectiveness of the actions in this regard.

The methodology of analysis includes elements of Theory of Change (ToC) and morphological scenario elaboration, which were integrated in a novel approach. As a first step, for each action, its underpinning logic, and the assumptions upon which this logic is conditional, were deconstructed using graphic conventions, and contextual conditions identified, thus creating a so-called ToC mechanism map. Then, plausible scenarios were defined according to eight or nine nexus of change, reported in a nexus-state array, with different degrees of relevance at the local level; each nexus could assume one of four different states with varying degrees of uncertainty. Finally, the ToC mechanism maps were reviewed based on the future local conditions and drivers identified during the scenario step (see Figure 1). The nexus-state array and the revised mechanism maps are discussed separately for each of the three manifestations of spatial (in)justice identified in D8.2: 1) territorial disadvantage, 2) neighbourhood effects, and 3) disempowered places. Since the analysis was finalized before the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, its effects were not considered in the elaboration of the scenarios.

Amongst all the case studies, two nexus of change felt to be particularly important for the future of the localities in 2030: demographic changes, and changes in governance and configuration of power. On the other hand, those of lowest importance included climate change mitigation and adaptation, neighbourhood diversity and segregation, and changes in the centrality of places due to new mobilities and digitization. Agglomeration or dispersal of economic activities, neighbourhood diversity and segregation, and governance and configuration of power were ranked as most important in case studies affected by, respectively, territorial disadvantage, neighbourhood effects, and place disempowerment. Generally, the future of case study localities emerged as difficult to predict, highlighting the importance of place-specificity to future trends.

                                                                                 Figure 1: Working sheet for the revision of the ToC mechanism map.

Challenges and opportunities were also identified. In particular, the loss of human capital and of capable leaders due to demographic depletion in (primarily rural) territorial disadvantaged places is expected to trigger a vicious cycle of decline that will reduce the capacity of the actions to achieve their spatial justice goal in the localities within which they are situated. Key long-term assumptions underpinning the actions include a continuity of (mostly EU) financial support; strong emotional links of the people with their territory; and a persisting political will to address injustice(s). When these do not hold, a more realistic goal of pursuing relative rather than absolute equality of opportunities and outcomes is envisaged. Bottom-up actions seem more successful than those which are top-down, but this is also due to their more limited scope and ambitions. Strategies of adaptation to changing contextual conditions include a stronger focus on ‘soft’, immaterial interventions (less expensive, but implying more uncertain causal paths than ‘hard’ infrastructure), and the adoption of an entrepreneurial approach centred on comparatively more competitive sectors. Recurring opportunities to redirect the action are the valorisation of environmental assets and healthy and sustainable food production, both linked to the priorities of the next EU programming period. Emerging challenges include the persistence of stigma, often embedded in existing institutions and approaches; the reproduction of spatial injustice at a lower level; and the loss of identity through gentrification. Going beyond the project approach by integrating the action into a long-term, higher-level program seems key to ensure its success.

In relation to policy implications, firstly, the scenarios revealed a clear, but not universal, pessimism about the capacity for local, bottom-up initiatives to effectively deliver spatial justice under a wider neoliberal socio-economic system actively perpetuating inequality of all kinds. This recurring ‘lesson’ holds that to mitigate spatial injustices, policy objectives need to be de-coupled from economic growth, particularly in the context of population decline. Secondly, we identified a need for coordinated governance approaches both vertically, to connect local development strategies to those at the regional, national, and EU level, and horizontally between institutions and other stakeholders. Thirdly, there were also concerns around paradoxical disadvantages created where measures in one place relatively disadvantaged neighbouring villages or districts. Localities can not only outperform one another in terms of elevating those targeted by an action over those excluded, but can also gain advantage through the inequalities of competitive funding. Bottom-up approaches relying on endogenous processes rooted in community seemed, in practice, unsuited to an equitable spatial distribution of resources and opportunities, being more geared towards raising-up some, rather than evening-out generally. This negative prognosis must be set against a minority of more optimistic scenarios recognizing the scale of the challenge but remaining open to the possibility of paradigmatic change.


This report presents the results of RELOCAL WP8 Coherence and scenarios’ in the form of a comparative analysis of mid-term (2030) spatial justice scenarios elaborated for the 33 RELOCAL case studies, and of lessons learned from this exercise. It builds on the theoretical background defined in D1.2 Revised conceptual framework for the project, the scenario methodology presented in D8.1 Methodological framework for developing scenarios of case study regions, and the reconceptualization of spatial justice in D8.2 Towards an operational concept of spatial justice.

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