Beyond global gains and local pains - Spacial inequality of Hinterland logistics

Thumbnail Image
Nefs, Merten
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Trade infrastructure and logistical activities have long been a source of prosperity as well as nuisance. The gains and pains of logistics, however, are not distributed equally across regions and cities. Important trade hubs such as Rotterdam or Chicago have built strong trade institutions and accumulated urban wealth, hereby making a successful trade-off between the global gains of trade and the local pains of congestion and pollution (Cronon, 1991; Kuipers et al., 2018). Since the rise of global supply chains, such hubs have grown beyond their city boundaries and formed logistical hinterlands. These extensive areas appear to represent a less favourable trade-off between gains and pains, judging by the increasing criticism against distribution centre developments, regarding landscape degradation, congestion (CRa et al., 2019) and precarious jobs (Bergeijk, 2019). In the hinterland of Rotterdam, the building footprint of logistics has increased fourfold since 1980 (Nefs, 2022), while congestion and labour shortages have also increased steeply and the planning system has been decentralized, giving more responsibility to local governments (Nefs et al., 2022). This paper discusses whether hinterland logistics can be regarded as a spatial justice issue, and how this may be reflected in the local spatial planning discourse. The concept of spatial justice emerged in the early 1970s, when Harvey and other geographers applied Rawls' (1971) theory on fair distribution of gains and pains to planning, which has gained traction in recent years (Rocco and Newton, 2020; Soja, 2010). This not only relates to infrastructures and spaces, but also the distribution of “financial, environmental and social benefits and burdens issued from urban development.” ( Since public goods and negative externalities such as noise are not equally distributed geographically, accessibility as well as proximity play an important role in a spatial justice discourse. As Bret (2018) explains, geographical scales used in such discourses should also be seen as social constructs, which may be used to legitimize the outsourcing of pains to other territories and not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) positions. The procedural aspects of spatial justice, or how a planning system may enhance the fair distribution of gains and pains, have been explored by Healey (1996) and Ostrom (2015). Moroni (2020) reminds us that distributive justice cannot cover the full range of social justice issues, since not all goods are scarce, divisible and transferable. This also applies to aspects discussed in this paper, such as e-commerce and nitrogen emissions. The Dutch planning system, rooted in democratic water and land management, often faces land scarcity in light of economic and ecological ambitions. It is therefore understood to have the necessary institutions and motivation to enhance spatial justice (Michels, 2006; Salet, 2018).
spatial inequality , hinterland logistics , trade infrastructure , congestion , pollution , spatial justice