Speaker: Vrej Harutyunyan
Theme: The term spacial justice and the spacial justice issue in post-Soviet Yerevan

The city is as a social space is created by the economic, cultural, and political values of a society at a given time, yet the decision making powers that shape the city be they economic, cultural and political are at times not representative of all member of society that occupy the city, causing a spatial justice issue in the process.

Spatial justice identifies social justice issues and how they manifest in the urban landscape, the organization of space and how it is utilized and functions clearly reflect the power structures that are inherent in society and how they influence social relations (Henri Lefebvre, 1993).
Spatial justice issues arise when space and how it is arranged, zoned, distributed and moved through, affect different members of society unequally. Achieving a better balance of justice in the urban landscape is a principle that unites different members of society living in a city and creates a sense of fairness and human dignity (Soja, 2010).

From my previous research conducted that focused on the effects of independence on the urban landscape of Yerevan. By using rephotography comparisons of city landmarks and semi-structured interviews and content analysis, I determined that urban space in Yerevan was significantly altered by the systems and policies that emerged in the transitory period.

As the urban landscape of Yerevan began to shift after independence from the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, land that was previously used for public purposes, such as sidewalks and parks, was slowly converted to spaces that were used to generate revenue, or were entirely privatized for personal use.

The research revealed a significant percentage of public park space that was converted to private café’s which change the whole function of the previous park, Retail shopping booths and gas stations on public sidewalks, private car garages in building courtyards that were once communal pocket parks, and hotels located in what used to be public parks. Parallel to these rapidly developing changes, there was also the presence of large-scale privatization of public factories, public transport services, and utility providers. These changes created spatial justice concerns, environmental justice concerns, and ecological democracy concerns that need to be studied further.

The research further revealed that while independence and free market policy developed in post-Soviet Yerevan, the privatization of urban resources took place at a faster rate than the formation of civil society based on democratic principles, creating a polarity in the physical urban landscape. While most park space was converted into profit-generating space, there was no significant civic reaction until 2012, when the Mashtots Park Movement fueled a youth-led resistance against the privatization of public space in Yerevan.

The second notable movement to follow was the “We Won’t Pay 150 Drams Movement,” a successful citywide resistance against the price-hike of public transportation services from a 100-dram fare to a 150-dram fare. Both of these movements raised challenges against the privatization of what are considered normal urban features in developed democratic societies, notably adequate public transportation, public parks, and proper urban planning and zoning laws. The lack of these basic features and the further misuse of the semblances that are in-place of these features generated spatial justice, environmental justice and ecological Democracy issues that created an organic response from concerned citizens utilizing different tactics of civil disobedience.