Session details


Tim Soens (University of Antwerp)


Inequality is not just about aggregate measures of income or wealth. Inequality is also about access to services and resources, and not all of these can be easily translated into monetary values. In this session we focus on the access to different kinds of resources – water, energy, green space - in European Cities from the Early Modern Period to the 20th century, questioning what they tell us about urban inequalities: did differences in the access to resources simply mirror existing inequalities? Are such inequalities planned or designed? How did control over resources offer possibilities for enrichment and social differentiation both within the city and between city and countryside? And how and when did ‘moral’ concerns about ‘just’ access to vital resources interfere with inequalities in access?


Dealing with Water Scarcity in Large Urban Households. Orphanages for the Poor and for the more Prosperous in Early Modern Amsterdam


Milja Van Tielhof (Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands), substitute presenter: Bob Pierik (University of Amsterdam/Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)


Drinking Water, Environmental Conditions, Orphan Care


Recent literature acknowledges the uneven impact of water scarcity on social groups. Access to good drinking water more often than not differed according to the wealth of households and neighbourhoods (Janssens and Soens 2019, 96-97). This paper investigates the water use and provisioning of an exceptionally large household in Amsterdam, the Aalmoezeniersweeshuis, an orphanage caring for the children of the urban poor in the early modern period. Amsterdam was notorious for its lack of healthy water, due to pollution and salination. Water was imported by boat from dozens of kilometres away against considerable costs, and rain water was collected (Van Roosbroeck, 2019). But were these sorts of water also available for the poor? The Aalmoezeniersweeshuis is an interesting case study because it was the largest orphanage in the Dutch Republic, needing large amounts of water daily. What sorts of water did the orphanage use, for which purposes? What strategies did the regents of the orphanage apply to have enough good water, even in periods of general scarcity, and did they succeed? The paper includes a comparison with the Amsterdam Burgerweeshuis, an institution caring for orphans from more prosperous families, and hopes to contribute to the debate on the quality of orphan care in the Dutch Republic (cf. McCants 1997; Heerma van Voss and Van Leeuwen, 2012).

Heerma van Voss, L. and M.H.D. van Leeuwen, ‘Charity in the Dutch Republic’, Continuity and Change 27/2 (2012) 175-197. 

Janssens, R. and T. Soens, ‘Urbanizing water. Looking beyond the transition to water modernity in the cities of the Southern Low Countries, thirteenth to nineteenth centuries’, in: T. Soens, D. Schott, M. Toyka-Seid and B. De Munck (eds), Urbanizing nature. Actors and agency (dis)connecting cities and nature since 1500 (Routledge: New York/London 2019) 89-111. 

McCants, A.E.C., Civic charity in a Golden Age. Orphan care in early modern Amsterdam (Urbana 1997. 

Roosbroeck, F. van ‘The water supply of early modern Amsterdam: A drop in the bucket?’ TSEG/The Low Countries Journal of Social and Economic History 16/2 (2019) 71-91.

Historic Inequality Accessing Urban Green Spaces: The Case of Madrid


Marta Quintana de Juan (University Complutense of Madrid)


Green Space, Public Space, Segregation


In the last decade, different studies show that Madrid has become the most segregated capital in Europe. The breach between rich and poor is getting bigger, and this difference has a morphological reflection between north and south, center and periphery and is also revealed in the access to the green public spaces –and its condition– that the capital has. 

This inequality is not new, and can be traced in the history of our green spaces and in the evolution of the city’s urbanism. 

If one looks at the different plans for the city in the 20th century, one can see the evolution of the green belt in the projects of 1929, 1946 or 1963 up to today’s proposal of a metropolitan forest that will be implemented in the next twelve years. In this project, it seems the south has many parks, but they’ve been reduced throughout the decades and its conservation is very degraded, especially when we compare it with the green areas of the richer neighborhoods. For example, if one compares in real life the state of El Retiro, a royal ground opened to the public in the 19th century and an obliged visit for tourists, with the park of Las Cruces, in Carabanchel, present in the plan of 1963 but only achieved later on thanks to the action of activists in the 70s, the differences are abysmal. 

In a more recent project, the well-known and much celebrated Madrid Río, where national and international studios converged (MRIO arquitectos with West 8), the frontier of the river and the underground road (the M-30) was supposed to blur the boundaries of a middle-class neighborhood with a working class area, but the pandemic showed us that this diffusion was an illusion when children from the rich side of the river were allowed to play in the parks and the children from the poorer side couldn’t go to their playgrounds. 

This paper intends to reflect on the historic evolution of the green spaces in Madrid, focusing on how their emergence, upkeep and access is very different depending on who they are destined for.