SPS seminar with Caroline Newton (TUD) on Urban Pathology of Neo-Liberal Control was organised via Zoom. The recording from the seminar is available here:

Title: Pathologies of neo-liberal urban planning. Spatial Justice as a Design Principle to Recover the Soul of the City

During the last two weeks of March the number of calls to the Flemish helpline (tele-onthaal) rose because of the Corona crisis. A large number of people were looking for support and advice through this service. More interestingly loneliness became an increasingly prominent subject, 21% of the calls were related to feelings of loneliness. In the Netherlands the helpline (de luisterlijn) is receiving 30% more calls and a large number of the callers indicate that they feel lonely.

The current Corona crisis has amplified basic human concerns and fears, but has also amplified the human need for social interaction.

Verhaeghe (2014) argues that the neo-liberal capitalist society makes people sick, it turns us into competitors and egotists. Neo-liberalism suppresses the intrinsic social nature of people and consequently the interconnectedness between all of us. Today this need for social contact and connectedness is screaming for recognition.

Zooming into this social need it quickly becomes clear that space is an important factor. Foucault and Sloterdijk, amongst others have argued that more than before we are living in an age where space overtakes time as a sense-making category. During modernism, time was the central element, in our current post-modern world it has become an accessory to space. The centrality of space as an organizing element is clear in the wide availability of concepts to speak about spatial relations. From Deleuze’s rhyzome to Spivak’s margin and center and Brighenti’s urban interstices. Following Lefebvre and Foucault, Soja (2010, p. 70) argues that space is the third ontological category, next to the temporal and the social.
Today, in a moment when ‘social distancing’ becomes important, we can physically experience that all human activities “take place” and very literally ‘occur in particular places and spaces, and in so doing they tend for the most part to cluster, to seek proximity and propinquity’ (Soja, 2010, p. 72). But we also experience that depending on where you are spending your self-quarantine the experience can be very boring and confined or more enjoyable. This is a very practical illustration of the effect of spatial inequalities.

In this seminar we will look into the effects of spatial inequalities on the opportunities for urban dwellers. Within the neo-liberal reality, the mutual connectivity between different groups is under pressure and a competition for the best locations is challenging the inclusivity and diversity of our cities. Entire groups of residents are being pushed out to make way for yet another coffee bar and luxury flats.
Against this background, the seminar (1) starts with a sketch of the current context of planning and city-making, (2) next it makes a plea for putting the ‘right to the city’ central (3) and finally spatial justice is presented as a lever for change and as design principle.


Caroline Newton (Urbanism, Bouwkunde, TU Delft)


I am an architect, urban planner and political scientist. I hold a PhD in social geography from the University of Leuven (Belgium).
My work and research focuses on the socio spatial dimensions of design and critical spatial practices in Europe and the Global South. My research interests are centered on the interrelationship between social processes and the built environment. I have been working on (informal) dwelling and participatory upgrading, the challenge of design and planning in post colonial environments and also on the methodological and pedagogical challenges of a ‘designerly way of knowledge production’. Additionally I have an interest in the integration of real and virtual words and their role for architecture and urban design and planning education.
I am a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Housing and the Built Environment and an expert on socio-spatial planning in the GECORO of Mechelen.



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