Academic journal article The Geographical Bulletin

The Transportation Disadvantaged and the Right to the City in Syracuse, New York

Academic journal article The Geographical Bulletin

The Transportation Disadvantaged and the Right to the City in Syracuse, New York

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Drawing on the idea of the right to the city, this paper focuses on the challenges facing the transportation disadvantaged in Syracuse, N.Y. This paper will begin by focusing on two programs aimed at transporting welfare recipients to work: the Rides for Work and Wheels for Work programs. This paper will then examine transit activism in Syracuse as it emerged, first in debates over wheelchair lifts on public buses in the 1980s and second as it has emerged in more contemporary organizing efforts aimed at promoting transit awareness. Through these four case studies, this paper argues that urban transportation polices necessarily shape the terms under which the transportation disadvantaged can assert their right to the city.

Key Words: public transportation, right to the city, neoliberalism, urban geography, welfare reform

INTRODUCTION

In recent years, geographers and other social scientists have shown an increasing interest in Henri Lefebvre's (1996[1968]) idea of "the right to the city." Scholars have invoked the idea in debates over homelessness (Mitchell 2003), housing policy (Marcuse 2008), urban citizenship (Dikec 2005), globalization (Purcell 2003), urban planning (McCann 2005) and even in debates over the aesthetics of the urban environment (Mattila 2005). The right to the city has been understood as a right of the homeless to occupy public space (Mitchell 2003), a right of urban citizens to engage the urban planning process in non-trivial ways (McCann 2005) and at its broadest, as a general right against urban policies that are seen to be either exclusionary, anti-democratic or that ban individuals or groups from participating in urban life.

While scholarship on the right to the city has touched on a number of issues, little has been said with respect to public transit or 1 urban transportation more generally. This paper contends that the idea of the right to the city can and must be brought to bear upon questions of urban transportation policy. In parsing the relationship between urban transportation and the right to the city, this paper will look specifically at public transit in Syracuse NY. In many ways, public transit in Syracuse has faced many of the same challenges that have afflicted other mid-sized formerly industrial cities- from the operational challenges associated with urban sprawl to the financial burdens associated with capital flight and uncertain revenue streams. Following a brief overview of literature in geography on the right to the city and on urban transportation, this paper will examine two transportation programs in Syracuse: the Rides for Work and Wheels for Work programs.1 In addition to reinforcing neoliberal imperatives of contingent work, persistent job readiness and labor discipline, these transportation programs, I will argue, stand counter to the expansive set of rights encompassed in the notion of the right to the city; instead they hold paramount the exclusive and individual right to work.

The last section of this paper will focus on transit activism in Syracuse. This section will look at the efforts of disability advocacy groups: Disabled in Action (DIA) and ARISE as well as the activism of a group called the Alliance of Churches Transforming Syracuse (ACTS). Transit activism in Syracuse, whether over wheelchair lifts or increased Sunday service, has served to highlight transportation's role in securing not only a right to work but a broader set of rights, including the right to the city. Whether we define the right to the city as right to public space (Mitchell 2003), or a right to organize collectively (Harvey 2008), implicit in asserting these rights, for many, are questions of transportation and mobility. Urban transportation policies, I will argue, ultimately, set the conditions under which the transportation disadvantaged can assert their right to the city.2

This paper is largely a theoretical one. It is an attempt to intervene into recent debates within scholarship in geography on the right to the city and scholarship in geography on urban transportation. …

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