“Spatial” = a basis in space, location, or position

Space can be defined in many ways, including both the common-sense use of the term as well as more technical definitions. According to the geographer David Harvey, spatial relationships can be defined as:

  • absolute space: definite position on an (unchanging) coordinate system
  • relative space: distance to a common reference point in time and space
  • relational space : position within a symbolic system perceived by a particular person or group

Our working definition of spatial justice encompasses each of these approaches to looking at geographic space.


Inequality can be defined as difference that has implications for social justice, according to the geographer David Smith. Community groups with a concern for social justice perceive these differences and can document spatial inequality by representing the differences within a spatial framework.

The power of spatial expressions of inequality lies in the visual appeal of maps and the ability to capture the powerful role played by geography.

Spatial Justice Resources is focused on providing formal, or statistical, methods of representing, communicating and measuring spatial inequality (absolute or relative concepts of space). We would also like to encourage users to combine these with other ways of representing inequality.

Examples of Spatial Inequality and Spatial Injustice

  • Facilities or services that are needed for the health and well-being of a community are not adequately available in an area with need, as compared with their availability in other locations.
  • Allocation of resources, eg budgets, political power, etc. are unfairly distributed such that on a per-capita or other basis, some areas are disadvantaged compared to others.
  • Facilities or activities that cause harm to communities are unevenly distributed such that some communities suffer the effects to a significantly greater extent than others.
  • Access to space is unfairly or unjustly controlled.


Once a particular issue is identified as a spatial justice issue, it is often useful to choose a more formal way of representing the spatial relationship. Identifying one of the following forms of spatial relationships will then help determine which tools will be relevant. Links to three inter-related tutorials are provided in this section.

One key distinction is between point patterns and territorial distributions.

Point patterns depict the locations of a set of data in space, as in the example below.

With point patterns, we are primarily interested in spatial position. Analysis may consist of describing the overall pattern of data points, identifying significant clustering, and documenting under-served areas. An additional next step is to overlay and relate to other spatial phenomena. We present the example of access to playgrounds using the QGIS software.

Territorial distributions describe how data values vary across a set of regions, such as a neighborhoods or countries.

When considering territories, Analysis includes mapping and analyzing quantitative information that is grouped by region, neighborhood, or other spatial unit. We build on the previously mentioned “access to parks” example by adding a territorial analysis of Census Tract data. This example uses the GeoDa software to consider correlation and autocorrelation of data among territorial units.

More advanced types of analysis consider spatial variation in data relationships, as opposed to just one data attribute. The example provided considers relationships between multiple attribute and autocorrelation at the same time. The GeoDa software is used to analyze how the relationship between car ownership and poverty varies in different parts of a city.


There are several software options available for carrying out the examples described above. Within the examples, we introduce three different software options: ArcGIS , QGIS , GeoDa. The Data and Software page presents some links for downloading data, and a more in depth look at one example of a data source for each theme.