Social sustainability in urban areas: a situated ethical judgement

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractScientific


Cities in West-Europe are confronted with a rapid increase in population and a growing pressure on space that impacts the social conditions in cities. In the Netherlands, inquiries show that economic inequality among citizens increases, that society is politically and culturally polarizing and that citizens increasingly experience ‘a social discomfort’. Although the Netherlands has a long tradition in spatial investments in the social domain (for example through the extensive stock of social housing and several national spatial planning programmes), the success of the outcomes of the socio-spatial policies is critically questioned (Engbersen et al., 2007). This observation gives reason to re-evaluate the meaning of social sustainability in urban areas.

Although sustainability has gained ground in the fields of urban policy, planning and development, many urban area development practices focus on environmental and economic dimensions of sustainability and tend to neglect its social dimension. Social sustainability has remained a relatively vague concept and literature about social sustainability lacks a hegemonic theory (Dempsey et al., 2011). The hypothesis of this PhD-research is that 1) the meaning of social sustainability in urban areas is largely influenced by the way that the rhetoric concept of social sustainability is translated into concrete (spatial) indicators, 2) that this translation often overlooks the normative content and situational contexts (Davidson, 2010), and 3) that making conflicts in the implementation of social sustainability explicit will contribute to the outcomes of socio-spatial policies in a positive way. This article reviews definitions of social sustainability that were provided in literature about urban area developments and positions them in the idea of the ‘situated ethical judgement’, developed by Heather Campbell (2006; Watson, 2006). Results show that definitions of social sustainability in urban area developments often lack explicit normative notions and therewith do not suffice to support value conflicts in planning implementation processes.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Event14th AESOP Young Academics Conference 2020: Planning as a conflict resolution - Pragu, Czech Republic
Duration: 30 Mar 20202 Apr 2020


Conference14th AESOP Young Academics Conference 2020: Planning as a conflict resolution
Country/TerritoryCzech Republic
Internet address


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