Negotiating the (Legal) Right to the City:

Public Housing Demolition and Federal Courts in Two Postindustrial cities

Public housing reform has fostered widespread revitalization in American cities. Courts have been critical to this process, but so far urban scholars have not yet closely analyzed this role. This article illuminates how courts participated in reform, sometimes empowering and at other times disempowering tenants. Looking at litigation filed by tenants to fight demolition, I examine how courts framed disputes in legal terms and how the judicial stance on demolition coevolved with national policy debate. In particular, I emphasize how tenants tapped into the ideological power of rights in American society and show that courts never explicitly rejected the notion that tenants held rights against demolition but instead gradually adopted urban planning sensibilities that implicitly denied rights to tenants. Thus, this article reveals the complicated and paradoxical nature of legal rights in the Right to the City struggles.

Race, Poverty and Markets:

Urban Inequality after the Neoliberal Turn

Abstract Classic scholarship on the problem of urban inequality tends to highlight the absence of “the market” and the correspondingly problematic and inadequate role of the state in poor communities. This article explores how the relationship between markets and urban poverty has shifted in recent decades. Scholars have become increasingly attentive to the growing influence of market logics and privatization—core features of “neoliberal” change—in areas such as housing, education, federal policy, local politics, employment, and social services. I discuss how this recent work adds to our understanding of how markets shape urban disadvantage. I also argue that—given the rising influence of market logics in city governance—urban scholarship stands to benefit from a deeper engagement with insights from the field of economic sociology. Building bridges between the two subfields, I argue, will help to specify what markets mean in the lives of the urban poor, and also can bring issues of race and poverty to the attention of economic sociologists

Welfare as Wrecking Ball:

Constructing Public Responsibility in Legal Encounters over Public Housing Reform

Scholarship on welfare privatization illustrates how the process often curtails and undermines public responsibility for the poor. In this article, I examine how recipients, policy makers, and judges participate in the legal process as a means of challenging and defending privatization. I look at cases of litigation initiated by public housing tenants between 1985 and 2012 to fight the demolition of their homes to explore the changing meaning of public responsibility within a shrinking public sector. My findings show that as legislative and administrative reforms steered courts toward a more flexible understanding of public responsibility, courts gave increasing attention to the economic hardships experienced by the state itself, while downplaying the plight of low-income tenants.

Coloring the Blind Spot:

The Urban Black Community as an Object of Racial Discourse in the Age of Obama

The emergence of Barack Obama in American politics has signified to many an important breakthrough in race relations. He has found political success by variously embodying the 'post-civil rights' cultural values of 'colorblindness', 'race-trancendence', 'post-racialism', and racial hybridity. By exploring both the racial politics of past 'post-civil rights' presidential elections, and also the practices of racial discourse animating the 2008 presidential race--particularly the 'Rev. Wright incident'--I critique the cultural logic of 'post-civil rights'. I argue that the values that constitute this cultural logic, although appearing progressive, work to whitewash the structural realities of urban Black communities, and that particularly in regard to racial politics, Obama represents not change but a further step in the wrong direction.