John Garrard Stehlin
BA 2004 (Political Science) Vassar College
Research interests: urban geography, political economy, technology and subjectivity, commons, Marxism, feminism, anarchism, racial formation, critical theory, consumption
Regional focus: cities of North America; global circulations of urban policy and design
My research combines urban geography, political economy, and critical social theory to understand the deep transformations currently underway in North American cities and regions. Broadly, I seek to understand and interrogate how contemporary attempts to make cities more livable and sustainable have had problematic results with respect to inequality, resulting in urban spaces that reinscribe historical divisions along race and class. This work is motivated by serious silences about these dynamics in the discourse that celebrates the “greening” of cities. My abiding concern is not only to critically examine the contradictions of the livable city, but also to learn from and participate in efforts to make cities across the globe both more livable and more equitable.
My dissertation examines the role that bicycle infrastructure plays in shaping contemporary visions of the livable city. In it, I explore the paradox that bicycling is among the most inexpensive forms of mobility, but living where one can easily bicycle for daily needs is increasingly expensive. My argument is that this is not an accident, but a product of how bicycle advocates have negotiated the process of gentrification and their political role in urban growth. I examine these processes in the San Francisco Bay Area, where some of the earliest economistic arguments in favor of bicycle infrastructure emerged. Since the late 1990s, bicycle advocacy has shifted from the defense of the rights of cyclists to use all roadways as they are to the promotion of bicycle infrastructure in defense of cyclist safety and, increasingly, as an economic benefit for cities. Bicycle infrastructure provision is now to an extent predicated on the notion that it contributes positively to a pleasant consumption environment and attracts young, dynamic, innovative workers to urban spaces where, cities hope, capital will follow. The success of the economic narrative has transformed bicycle advocacy from a fringe pressure activity to a key player in shaping what urban space will become. In the course of this itinerary, bicycling has become redefined as a white, middle-class activity, obscuring the actually-existing diversity of cycling practice.
In a new research project for which I will be seeking funding in fall 2015, I will trace the multiple global origins of the design forms that constitute a globally circulating ideal-type of the livable city. Cycletracks from Copenhagen, bus rapid transit (BRT) from Mexico City (and elsewhere), "ciclovías" (or "play streets") from Bogotá, and even the Greenwich Village of Jane Jacobs' Manhattan, are now iteratively combined into a package, circulating as a conceptual and normative ideal through networks of urban policy. My goal is to trace these networks of policy, but also to examine the spaces within which these spatial models , and to understand what conditions of regional political economy, urban inequality, and global power underwrite them as models. My hope is both to open up a space both for understanding the mundane origins of global expertise and to understand how alternative visions of urban livability engage with this expertise.
Stehlin, J. "The Post-Industrial 'Shop Floor': Gentrification and New Spaces of Production in the San Francisco Bay Area." In review with Antipode.
Stehlin, J. "Magic City 2.0: Articulations of Soil, Law and Capital on Treasure Island." In Horiuchi, Lynne and Sankalia, Tanu, eds. Urban Reinventions: San Francisco's Treasure Island. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. In peer review, expected 2015.
Stehlin, J. “Cycles of Investment: Bicycle Infrastructure, Gentrification and the Restructuring of the San Francisco Bay Area.” Forthcoming January 2015 with Environment and Planning A.
Stehlin, J., 2014. "Regulating Inclusion: Spatial Form, Social Process, and the Normalization of Cycling Practice in the USA". Mobilities 9(1): pp. 21-41. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17450101.2013.784527
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.