Document Type


Publication Date

August 2014

Publication Title

American Sociological Association Annual Meeting


Civic and Community Engagement | Urban, Community and Regional Planning | Urban Studies | Urban Studies and Planning


Since the 1970s, the consequences of global economic restructuring and the rise of free-market “neoliberal” ideologies in governance have been visible in most every arena of social life, but are perhaps nowhere more visible than in urban space. The humble bus stop, a basic element of local transit service, is today often turned over in large part to private advertising interests and in the process has become both an indicator of neglect and a symbol of the commodification of public space. This paper examines such physical manifestations of neoliberal planning policy in the urban streetscape – spatial neglect and inequality in some places where state services recede, overdevelopment and hypercommodification in others where private investment reigns – through a novel and revealing lens: unauthorized “do-it-yourself urban design” contributions that seek to respond to them. Drawing from my larger research project on these functional yet unsanctioned urban design interventions and their relationship to the official planning process, I focus here on DIY efforts at “improving” bus stop seating and other streetscape conveniences. Some attempt to aid communities and transit agencies by installing benches, others work to remove corporate advertising that they see as part of the problem, some simply act in their own self-interest. Through these cases, I present not only a street-level perspective on some ways that uneven development is experienced and responded to in everyday life, but a critical analysis of DIY urban design as itself potentially undemocratic and quintessentially “neoliberal” in nature.


Paper presented at the panel: Space and Place.