John Garrard Stehlin

Graduate Student
BA 2004 (Political Science) Vassar College
Research interests: material culture, political economy, technology and subjectivity, commons, Marxism, feminism, anarchism, urban politics, racial formation, critical theory, consumption
Regional focus: cities of North America; global circulations of urban policy and design

Picture of John Stehlin

My research concerns the cultural politics of the bicycle as it intersects with capitalist development in contemporary North American urban life. Specifically, I am grappling with the mutually supportive relationships between: the massive growth in cycling as a 'green' urban lifestyle in certain cities amid rising rents and the suburbanization of poverty; the circulations of knowledge on facilitating real estate- and consumption-led economic growth through the production of space; and the classed and raced displacements attending gentrification as the prime mode of securing urban futures in contemporary capitalism. My contention is that the potential of the bicycle as a practice of making the commons in modern urban life is present in various projects, from skill-sharing and urban farming in Detroit to Critical Mass in San Francisco and industrial relocalization in Portland, but that dynamics of accumulation and displacement must be understood and contested to continue to realize the bicycle's radically democratic promise.

I intend to expand this research direction to examine how livable infrastructure, understood as a technology of ordering contemporary urban life, articulates with dynamics of accumulation and social segregation globally, specifically in tracing the paths of models like Ciclovías, "cycletracks," and bike-sharing programs back to their conditions of production in Bogotá, Northern Europe, and France, respectively. These places tend to be idealized in bicycle planning circles--the purpose of this expanded research would be to ground the idealized model in the context of how it gained global traction in the first place in order to examine less widely understood dynamics at work in their making. This follows much of the contemporary work in urban theory and geography that traces "policy mobilities" between cities, often across or counter to traditional North-South divisions.

I have also undertaken research on the planned large-scale 'eco-topian' development of Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay, in particular the ways in which the fetishization of total spatial design occludes key historical processes and renders the social and ecological contradictions of the present bearable through the production of 'fantasy spaces' of the future. A chapter is planned for an upcoming volume on Treasure Island with University of Hawaii Press.

Possible future trajectories of research include:

  • a historical geography of punk culture as spatial practice and form of knowledge circulation
  • a comparative analysis of the rapid urbanization of the coastal cities of the Western US during World War II, focusing on shipbuilding, race and class formation
  • commonization movements (adverse possession, re-zoning, etc.) in disinvested suburbs

Selected publications

Stehlin, J. "Magic City 2.0: Articulations of Soil, Law and Capital on Treasure Island." [working title] In Horiuchi, Lynne and Sankalia, Tanu, eds. Urban Reinventions: San Francisco's Treasure Island. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press (forthcoming, 2014)

Stehlin, J. “Cycles of Investment: Bicycle Infrastructure, Gentrification and the Restructuring of the San Francisco Bay Area.” In review with Environment and Planning A as of July 2013.

Stehlin, J., 2013. "Regulating Inclusion: Spatial Form, Social Process, and the Normalization of Cycling Practice in the USA". Mobilities (2): pp. 1-21. Available at:

Stehlin, J., 2010. "On Shifting Ground: Mobilizing Soil, Territorializing Power and Producing Place on San Francisco’s Treasure Island." International Association of Traditional Environments Working Paper Series. 230.

Personal interests

bicycles, punk rock, radio

Contact information

193 McCone Hall


Spring 2013. Geography 160B/American Studies 112B: “American Cultural Landscapes, 1900 – Present.” Head Instructor: Prof. Paul Groth

Fall 2012. Geography 110: “The Economic Geography of the Industrial World.” Head Instructor: Prof. Sarah Knuth

Spring 2012. Geography 37: “Topics in Political Geography: The Politics of Science and Technology.” Head Instructor: Prof. Jake Kosek

Fall 2010. Development Studies 10/Geography 32: “Introduction to Development Studies: Mass Poverty, Development and Globalization.” Head Instructor: Prof. Michael Watts