Social Justice in Spatial Planning

Last year, taking down of smart lamp posts, which were potentially capable of mass surveillance, by demonstrators in Hong Kong highlighted general uneased concerns over fear of intrusion into the sphere of individual privacy. Amidst the increased use of public security cameras which could benefit the society as a whole in maintaining and facilitating public safety, many questioned where should the line of the right to individual privacy be drawn and be stringently defended (or how much of it may inevitably be given up) at the present day when advancement of technologies has leapt forward in potential threat of the right and, if so, how it can be done within the framework of the law.

We live in an era when ideals of human rights have moved centre-stage both politically and ethically (Harvey, 2012, p3). Let alone the complex and evolving subject of privacy, many primary school teachings on human rights, such as guaranteeing equal pay for women, equal rights for gays and lesbians, equal opportunities for ethnic minorities, and the right to housing, food, and medicine, could be better addressed by our politicians during planning and legislation phases and implemented by our government had they focused on how social justice can work towards the better livelihood of the people.

This article attempts to collect and consolidate eminent views and opinions on social justice from renowned authors in the fields of planning and social studies and correlate them with human rights laws and principles which apply internationally. This exercise may help to remind ourselves of the consideration of improving urban planning as required or desired under the relevant legal obligations and the spirit of the law.


French theorist Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991), in his 1974 book La Production de l'Espace, explained the production and social use of space as delineated by its dialectically related dimensions: the physical, mental and the lived. Dr. Chris Butler, Senior Lecturer at the Griffith Law School, Australia, in his 2012 book Henri Lefebvre: Spatial Politics, Everyday Life and the Right to the City, described that Lefebvre defined space as being constituted by social relations rather than by its territorial, physical, and demographical characteristics. Space is an ensemble of relations and networks that make social action possible, is socially produced and an essential precondition for the reproduction of social relations (p42).

In this light, spatial planning is the discipline not only for the design and coordination of places, buildings and the environment to cater for the efficient and sustainable use towards achieving the aim of economic, social, and environmental development, but which focuses and emphases on improving sustainable and self-reproducible interaction and association, which encourages social action, among individuals and groups in the society.

For Lefebvre, the multidimensionality of space extends to its role as a political instrument and a means of social regulation, and its framing of political struggles (Butler, 2012, p45). Social relations are multifaceted in that it exists among and connecting individuals as well as social groups and classes in multifarious economic, social, political, and cultural contexts. Social space expands and thrives where social relations reproduce and spring social actions when political forces incubate and evolve which in turn enlighten higher demand for social justice.

Dr. Susan Fainstein, presently research scholar at Harvard Graduate School of Design, is one of the most reputed political theorists in urban planning. She said that space is a contributing source of inequality and injustice (Fainstein, 2014). This is particularly so when social relations are not well accommodated and coordinated, giving rise to occasions of deepened differences, misunderstandings and discrimination, and structural incapacity to recognize and resolve them.


Social justice can be described to cover a broad range of themes and its definition seems varied among diverse cultures and at different times. Scholars focus on the subject with a wide range of emphasis. Movements for social justice pursue particular aims under distinctive political contexts. The United Nations (2006) once stated that social justice may be broadly understood as the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth. The notions of fairness and unequal distribution favouring the disadvantaged constitute the core idea.

Dr. Fainstein in her momentous 2010 book The Just City established the normative theory of justice which urban planners should adhere to in order to realize a “Just City”. She considered topics most relevant to what constitute criteria of justice include (1) the relation of democratic processes to just outcomes; (2) the criterion of equity; (3) the criterion of recognition (2010, p23). In a later journal, she recapped and argued that the three governing principles, which apparently match up with the above criteria, for urban justice are democracy, diversity, and equity (2014). These are claimed to be first-order concerns of urban development.

Dr. Arjun Sengupta (1937-2010), one of India's most noted economists, served as the United Nation’s Independent Expert on the Right to Development, United Nation’s Independent Expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty, and member of the United Nations Development Program’s Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor. On the issue of the Rights to Food, he described that the fixing of targets for different level of achievement of the rights over a period of time should follow from an intensive consultation in compliance with the human right principles of equity, non-discrimination and participation (2007, 107 at 131). These themes are ought to be agreeable by committees of the United Nations working on human rights issues as common principles of social justice aimed at achieving fair and equitable distribution in the society.

At this point, there arises coincidental merging of social justice principles applicable between the disciplines of urban planning and law. We would proceed with taking a look at these broader human rights principles in the categories of democracy and participation, equity, and non-discrimination and diversity, and their respective juxtaposition in both the legal and town planning fields.



In 1945, the United Nations Charter was adopted, but nowhere could the reference to democracy be found in the document. Notable members among founders of the United Nations did not practice democratic system of public governance. Both the United Kingdom and France possessed a large number of colonies around the world. South Africa adopted the system of institutionalised racial segregation called Apartheid. Some other countries were governed by dictatorial regimes.

Democracy was then gradually implied into international law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted in 1948 acknowledged democracy at least by implication. Article 21 confers on everyone rights of political participation, and its third paragraph states that ‘[t]he will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government’. Professor Christian Tomuschat, Professor of International and Constitutional Law at Humboldt University Berlin, previously a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, considered (2013, pp10-11) that democracy today is considered the only truly legitimate form of government and is a mechanism for the generation of legitimate governments able to make claims for general obedience. Article 29 specifies that any limitations must be consistent with, inter alia, the requirements of ‘a democratic society’.

Likewise, the preamble of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which came into force in 1976, did not yet expressly refer to democracy. Professor Cecilia Medina Quiroga, Professor of International Human Rights Law at the University of Chile, previously Chair Person of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, however, noted  (2013, p4) that although the concept of democracy is mentioned only in relation to freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association – these freedoms are generally linked with the possibility of the free and informed elections, a typical feature of participatory democracy. Article 25 of the ICCPR contains guarantees of political rights essential to democratic pluralism.

On adjudging that the ban on the applicant party by the Constitutional Court of Turkey was a violation of the European Convention of Human Rights, which was drawn on the inspiration of the UDHR, the European Court of Human Rights determined, in United Communist Party of Turkey and others v. Turkey, judgment of 30 January 1998, Reports 1998–I, para. 45 that ‘democracy appears to be the only political model contemplated by the Convention and, accordingly, the only one compatible with it’. Generally speaking, a democratic system is the universally acceptable form of public governance and democracy is the only legitimate model of government.


The European Court of Human Rights (4th sect.), determined in Ozgür Gundem v. Turkey (Appl. No.23144/93), judgment of 16 March 2000, para 43, that ‘the key importance of freedom of expression [i]s [that it is] one of the preconditions for a functioning democracy. Genuine, effective exercise of this freedom does not depend merely on the State’s duty not to interfere, but may require positive measures of protection, even in the sphere of relations between individuals.’

The same court (GC), determined in Leyla Sahin v. Turkey (Appl. No. 44774/98), judgment of 10 November 2005, para 108, that ‘[p]luralism, tolerance and broadmindedness are hallmarks of a ‘democratic society’…. Pluralism and democracy must also be based on dialogue and a spirit of compromise necessarily entailing various concessions on the part of individuals or groups of individuals which are justified in order to maintain and promote the ideals and values of a democratic society’.

Ideal participation is where decision-making affecting people’s lives takes place with transparency in the system, equal opportunity in and freedom of expression and dialogue, an institutionalized system to prevent distortion of the fairness, with participants on an equal footing and being willing and ready to negotiate and compromise.

Democracy goes without saying forms one of the pillars of good urban planning. Dr. Fainstein emphasized that in a democratic decision-making process, the transparency, inclusion, and negotiation are demanded for (2010, p24). Within a democratic community, each party should have its say, and no privileged hierarchy, whether based on power or technical expertise, should exist (2010, p25).

Within communicative theory, the urban planner’s primary function is to listen to people’s stories and assist in forging a consensus among differing viewpoints (Fainstein, 2014). The communicative planning model, which passes over structural conflicts of interests and shrinks from analyzing the social context that blocks consensus building, is established as the standard for planning and policy-making (Fainstein, 2010, pp24, 28). It has all along been a good practice for urban planners to allow transparent communication without pre-determining influence or prejudicial presumptions.

Effective participation hence depends on equality of the right of expression and preparedness for negotiation, offering concessions and making compromise, towards forging a consensus, whilst institutionally providing for positive measures of protection offering a level playing field. At this juncture, both the legal and urban planning approaches on democratic participation converge to solidify into mutually recognizable doctrines.


The stronger the role of disadvantaged groups in policy decisions, the more redistributional will be the outcomes; thus, broad participation and deliberation should produce more just outcomes (Fainstein, 2014). Dr.  Fainstein emphasized the role of democratic participation in planning to achieve the ultimate target of a just outcome, which is equitable redistribution of societal resources for the disadvantaged.

The Right to the City was originally proposed by Henry Lefebvre. Under his idea, the broad notion of inhabitance is an expansion of mechanisms of participation in decision-making over the production of urban space which requires that inhabitants have a right to be present in all circuits of decision making leading to the control and development of the organization of social space…(Butler, 2012, 145). Dr. David W. Harvey, Distinguished Professor of anthropology and geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, is also a proponent of the idea of the Right to the City. He considered that since the urban process is a major channel of use, then the Right to the City is constituted by establishing democratic control over the deployment of the surpluses through urbanization (2012, 41-42). He commented that the only way that general rules of redistribution of wealth between municipalities can be established is either by democratic consensus or by citizens as democratic subjects with powers of decision at different levels within a structure of hierarchical governance (2012, 152). Both Lefebvre and Professor Harvey address on how production of urban space or societal surpluses can be fairly produced or redistributed through democratic processes, as part of the Right to the City, or the rights of the people to a good city.


Planning and Urban Renewal

Dr. Fainstein (2010, pp35, 36) uses the term equity to refer to distribution of benefits which does not favour those who are already better off at the beginning, and which does not require that each person be treated likewise but instead appropriately. The utilitarian principle under liberal political theory speaks for the doctrine of the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Under this principle, if the majority receives benefits, the minority may be left at a disadvantage so long as the overall sum of benefit is positive. Equity, however, requires that the happiness or otherwise of those not among the majority be as well-considered and appropriately taken care of.

Social injustice is often attributable by poor or superficial urban planning efforts. The most notable equity issues which professional planners face and deal with our housing needs and urban regeneration. According to the utilitarian principle, it does not matter if some people lose their home in an urban renewal project as long as they receive compensation for their loss (Fainstein, 2010, p38), and displacement of residents is justifiable if the majority benefits even marginally, regardless of the serious costs to those displaced and the likelihood that the displaced are already the most disadvantaged (Fainstein, 2014). It was even once critiqued that as often repeated in contemporary urban renewal, the operation to housing the poor is to displace them (Fainstein, 2014). Urban renewal attracted a lot of criticisms and studies when the problems of decline of environmental hygiene and fear of personal safety of those who are in the direst need of improved housing environment are swept under the carpet by ousting and scattering those very people to other places, whilst destroying the whole community, social network, sense of security, and collective memories which belong to them altogether, ultimately only benefiting developers in property sales. The problems are seemingly solved by removing those who suffer from the problems.

Spatial planning is not only architecture in a simpler version or street design, but includes, more importantly, the organization for a safe and thriving community which is capable of sustaining and developing on its own. On regeneration and housing alone, the discipline addresses topics of individual aspirations for privacy and control of one’s surroundings, communal sentiments toward preservation and membership in a group of like-minded people, housing shortages and lack of affordability, economic restructuring and consequence obsolescence of land uses, environmental hazards, ageing of housing and infrastructure (Fainstein, 2010, p82). It is also a combination of concerns of issues of property rights, privacy rights, right to housing, and the Right to the City, all intermingled together, in the arguments for or against or seeking the balance among which, claims for compensation, injunctions, and judicial reviews constantly arise by way of legal proceedings.

United Nations

The desire of promoting equity is no doubt embedded within the constitution of and proclaimed by the United Nations. The United Nations Millennium Declaration (para 6) refers to solidarity as a fundamental value, stating ‘Global challenges must be managed in a way that distributes the costs and burdens fairly in accordance with basic principles of equity and social justice. Those who suffer or who benefit least deserve help from those who benefit most.’ On the issue of the Right to Water (Arts. 11 and 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 15 (2002): (E/C.12/2002/11, 20 January 2003) (paras. 25–9) commented that any payment for water services has to be based on the principle of equity – water services should be affordable for all, including socially disadvantaged groups -- poorer households should not be disproportionately burdened with water expenses as compared to richer households. Constituting a fundamental value of human right, the fair distribution of benefits here flowing from those who benefited more in favour of those disadvantaged and the proportionate sharing of costs and burden on the part of the richer households relieving the corresponding burden on the poorer counterparts, accords with the equity principle pronounced by Dr. Fainstein in appropriately taking care of the suffering minority under the social redistribution exercise as against the mere consideration for the greatest happiness of the greatest number.


The Right to the City has to be construed as a right to rebuild and re-create the city - one that eradicates poverty and social inequality (Harvey, 2012, p138). In planning, the task of equitable distribution is right at the heart of the function. For public governance, the relief of poverty and elimination of inequality can be positively achieved, if redevelopment and reinvention of the city are planned with social equity as a benchmark. Purely concentrating on achieving financial and economic targets can sometimes blindfold our eyes to the fact of uneven income or wealth distribution and social marginalization. In formulating strategies and policies, social justice should be included as a yardstick for measuring public policy effectiveness. If a policy serves the goal of assisting the most disadvantaged without wasting resources, then the policy is efficient even if it does not maximize an aggregate benefit-cost ratio (Fainstein, 2014). To implement equity along with the Right to the City towards achieving The Just City, targets with measurable references to, say, the Gini coefficient and the proportion of people living under certain poverty line can be established and reviewed regularly.


It is commonplace for any state to claim its respect and upholding of non-discrimination as a human right. The legal basis in the international scene can be easily found.

The UDHR reflects the emphasis on the prohibition of discrimination, by stating that ‘[a]ll human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’ (Art. 1, first sentence), and by providing: ‘Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status’ (Article 2, first para.).

Article 2(1) ICCPR provides that ‘[e]ach State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status’.

Article 26 ICCPR reads: ‘All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.’

In South-West Africa Cases (Second Phase) Judgment [1966] ICJ Rep 6., the cases essentially concerned the question of whether there existed a legal norm regarding equality or non-discrimination, which Judge Tanaka in his view explained was intimately related to the essence and nature of fundamental human rights, the promotion and encouragement of which was one of the purposes of the United Nations according to its Charter. He considered that such an obligation arguably arose from the terms of the United Nations Charter and was a norm of customary international law. He then turned to examine whether it formed part of the general principles of law, and concluded that human rights are not created, but merely declared by treaties.

The principle of equality and non-discrimination has entered the realm of jus cogen as determined by the Inter-American Court of Human rights (Advisory Option OC-18/03 of 17 September 2003, requested by the United Mexican States on the Juridical Condition and Rights of the Undocumented Migrants). The Court determined that no legal act that is in conflict with this fundamental principle is acceptable, and discriminatory treatment of any person, owing to gender, race, color, language, religion or belief, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, nationality, age, economic situation, property, civil status, birth or any other status is unacceptable (para 101). Jus cogen is a peremptory norm of fundamental law that must be honoured by all states without exception.


Zoning, a land-use planning tool used in many parts of the world, determines the permissible or restricted uses of particular regions or areas referred to as zones. Perhaps because zoning categorizes and limits each specific area in a city to a precise use, in Lefebvre’s words in La Production de l'Espace (p.317), ‘[z]oning…is responsible – precisely – for fragmentation, break-up and separation under the umbrella of a bureaucratically decreed unity, is conflated with the rational capacity to discriminate.’ A person who works in a factory in an industrial zone would be stigmatized with low income and poor education whereas another person working in the centre of a commercial business zone would be perceived to possess more wealth and higher intellectual capability.

It is hardly challengeable to say that the quality of life of an urban citizen depends on the amount of wealth he has and can spend. Professor Harvey is concerned that the neoliberal ethic of intense possessive individualism brings about increasing individualistic isolation, anxiety, and neurosis, and we increasingly live in divided, fragmented, and conflict-prone cities (2012, 14-15). If the way how a person lives depends to a large extent on his wealth, then the level of his wealth may very much determine his position, status and class in the society which segregates him from the rest, perhaps with himself being boastful or else feeling envious and bitter. Although arising from different contexts, both Lefebvre and Harvey agreed that we live in an increasingly fragmented environment of isolation, prone to generation of differences, misunderstandings, prejudices, and discrimination.

Professor Harvey explained the right to the city as a collective right: the rights all those who facilitate the reproduction of daily life: construction workers, caregivers and teachers, the sewer and subway repairmen, the plumbers and electricians, the scaffold erectors and crane operators, the hospital workers and the truck, bus, and taxi drivers, the restaurant workers and the entertainers, the bank clerks and the city administrators (2012, 237). In this fragmented world of divided social space and locations, the right to the city seeks unity in society.

Mixing the Diversity

Among urban designers, diversity refers to mixing building types; among planners, it may mean mixed uses or class and racial-ethnic heterogeneity in a housing development or public space (Fainstein, 2010, p.68). Mixed-use is a commonly desired design concept for social sustainability. Social sustainability ‘combines design of the physical realm with design of the social world – infrastructure to support social and cultural life, social amenities, systems for citizen engagement and space for people and places to evolve’ (Social Life, 2012, p16). Requiring housing in any area to encompass a broad income range and forbidding discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or disability constitute standards conducive to justice (Fainstein, 2010, p72). Notably, Singapore adopts similar forced housing integration policies mandating particular percentage of residents living within the same building to be of certain combination of mixed ethnicity for the purpose of promoting diversity and social sustainability. It is claimed that the policies boost its economic success. In any event, inclusiveness is certainly the pillar of social sustainability.

The legendary author of the internationally acclaimed book Death and Life of Great American  Cities (1961), Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) laid down standards and models for town planning. In her teachings, diversity is the key to a successful city. The diversity, of whatever kind, that is generated by cities rests on the fact that in cities so many people are so close together, and among them contain so many different tastes, skills, needs, supplies, and bees in their bonnets (1961, p147). Diversity of uses can mean the different purposes for which users occupy or travel in the city, perhaps going to work or school, returning home from the marketplace, going to the cinema, talking with people, enjoying the sunlight, waiting for friends, and the like daily or social activities, whereas variety or diversity of users describes users of diverse ages, races, ethnicities, religions, cultures, jobs, education, and backgrounds of other nature. Social differentiation is based on multiple foundations, including race, ethnicity gender, religion, and culture, and the identification of individuals with family, religion, and culture is inherent to the human condition (Fainstein, 2010, p42-43).

Jacobs found that (i) [w]herever there is a city district with an exuberant variety and plenty in its commerce, we are apt to find that it contains a good many other kinds of diversity also, including a variety of cultural opportunities, variety of scenes, and a great variety in its population and other users (1961, p148); and (ii) [t]he more successfully a city mingles everyday diversity of uses and users in its everyday streets, the more successfully, casually (and economically) its people thereby enliven and support well-located parks that can thus give back grace and delight to their neighbourhoods instead of vacuity (1961, p111). She reached these statements through her own observations and research. Diversity, she concluded, promotes vibrant commercial activities and invigorates communities.

The Differences

Iris Marion Young (1949 – 2006) served as Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. In her 2000 book Inclusion and democracy, she recognized that people living among those like themselves provide existential security, and hence supports neighbourhood homogeneity within a metropolitan context of porous borders and multiple groups, emphasizing the need to recognize the difference between these groups and the opportunity of intercourse of social lives between them. In her 1990 book Justice and the Politics of Difference she stated ‘Social justice…requires not the melting away of differences, but institutions that promote reproduction of and respect for group differences without oppression’ (p.47). Young brought the concept of diversity and inclusiveness to a higher level, recognizing not only that mixed uses and users bring about prosperity, but the need to turn around and respect the differences, identity and character of each individual group. The differences among these groups should not be sought to be assimilated and faded away to create a wholly harmonized and homogeneous society, but on the contrary, their differences should be respected, recognized, promoted and reproduced, whilst structurally maintaining the means for their communication and interactions. This is called the Right to Difference.

The judiciary in the international arena has not been silent in acknowledging this social sustainability principle at an early stage. In a pre-United Nations case the Minority Schools in Albania case (1935), the Permanent Court of International Justice asserted that to ensure the equal footing of nationals belonging to racial, religious, or linguistic minorities with other nationals, and to maintain national minorities’ particularities, traditions, and characteristics, true equality between a majority and a minority required the preservation of the minority’s own institutions and the very essence of that which qualifies them as a minority (paras 48-52). Hence, true equality requires the society to preserve the minority’s very own differences which qualify them as a minority. In mixing together of diverse uses and users, care should be taken to avoid institutionally watering down and dissolving away their differences.

Article 27 of ICCPR reads ‘In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language’. With an obligation to preserve and maintain culture, religion and language of minorities, there must be a corresponding right to prevent the minorities being forcefully digested and absorbed into the mainstream culture or majority.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 4, The Right to Adequate Housing (Art. 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (sixth session, 1991) (E/1992/23): under Cultural Adequacy, stated that ‘[t]he way housing is constructed, the building materials used and the policies supporting these must appropriately enable the expression of cultural identity and diversity of housing. Activities geared towards development or modernization in the housing sphere should ensure that the cultural dimensions of housing are not sacrificed, and that, inter alia, modern technological facilities, as appropriate are also ensured’ (para 8(g)). On design of housing, the Committee set out the positive obligation to preserve cultural identity and recommended the use of modern technologies to assist where appropriate.

On the promotion of differences, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No 21: Right of Everyone to Take Part in Cultural Life (Art 15, Para 1a of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights)’ (21 December 2009) United Nations Doc E/C.12/GC/21 [1]  has made an explicit link between dignity of individuals and the right to culture: ‘The full promotion of and respect for cultural rights is essential for the maintenance of human dignity and positive social interaction between individuals and communities in a diverse and multicultural world...The protection of cultural diversity is an ethical imperative, inseparable from respect for human dignity. It implies a commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms, and requires the full implementation of cultural rights, including the right to take part in cultural life’ (para 40). Maintenance and preservation of human dignity are very much at the core of all human rights. Human dignity of diverse cultures is preserved by respecting and promoting each person’s own culture amongst many other cultures.

Right to Difference and Right to the City

The diversity that refers to the inclusion of all city users within the space of the city regardless of their cultural differences remains the goal of theorists is one captured by Lefebvre’s phrase ‘the Right to the City’ (Fainstein, 2010, p70). The Right to the City proposed by Henry Lefebvre is a right to urban life which links to the essential characteristics of the urban as both creative work and a space of ‘centrality’, ‘gathering’ and ‘convergence’ (Butler, 2012, 144). The prevention of certain groups and individuals from fully participating in the urban – a collective and creative work of art constantly being remade – constitutes a denial of the Right to the City (Butler, 2012, 143). The urban operates as a space of encounter – simultaneously encouraging differences to flourish… (Butler, 2012, 143-144). As Fainstein and Butler commented, the Right to the City as proposed by Lefebvre includes the Right to Difference between diverse cultures of different groups and their right to participate and have a say in the urban lives.


The Right to the City is a composite concept. All in all, Harvey said it is a right to change and reinvent the city more after our hearts’ desire, and the freedom to make and remake ourselves and our cities is one of the most precious human rights (2012, 4). Maintenance of social justice brings about sustained prosperity to society. Improved planning strategies and practices with social justice dimensions can help realize and protect these human rights. It is hoped that the three broad social justice principles mentioned in this article have proved to be some material for the readers to take away amidst current social movements, here and abroad.


Butler, C (2012). Henri Lefebvre: Spatial Politics, Everyday Life and the Right to the City. Abingdon: Routledge.

Fainstein, S. (2010). The Just City. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Fainstein, S. (2014) The Just City, International Journal of Urban Sciences, 18:1, 1-18, DOI: 10.1080/12265934.2013.834643

Harvey, D. (2012) Rebel Cities from the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution. New York: Verso.

Lefebvre, H. (1974) La Production de l’Espace. Paris: Editions Anthropos.

Jacobs, J. (1961) The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House.

Quiroga, C. (2013) The Role of International Tribunals: Law-Making or Creative Interpretation? In Dinah Shelton (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of International Human Rights Law. DOI: 10.1093/law/9780199640133.003.0028

Sengupta, A. (2007) The Right to Food in the Perspective of the Right to Development In W. B. Eide and U. Kracht (Ed.), Food and Human Rights in Development (Antwerp-Oxford: Intersentia-Hart, 2007), vol. II, ‘Evolving Issues and Emerging Applications’

Social Life (2012) Design for Social Sustainability. A Framework for Creating Thriving New Communities [online]. Retrieved from

Tomuschat, C. (2013) Democracy and the Rule of Law In Dinah Shelton (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of International Human Rights Law. DOI: law/9780199640133.003.0021

United Nations (2006) Social Justice in an Open World: The Role of the United Nations. The International Forum for Social Development. Retrieved from

Young, Iris (1990). Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691023151.

Young, Iris (2000). Inclusion and Democracy. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198297550.

Mr. Choi holds a Master of Laws from London, a Master’s degree in Urban Planning of Heriot-Watt University, and is a Licentiate of the Royal Town Planning Institute. Formerly the Commercial Partner of a Hong Kong law firm, In-house Counsel of an Asset Management firm and a Sharing Economy IT platform, he has engaged in legal practice for almost two decades. Whilst offering service on the Appeal Panel at the Housing Authority, the Disciplinary Panel of Social Workers Registration Board, and the Market Misconduct Tribunal, he is presently undertaking further graduate legal research with Oxford University.