Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Mitchell, Don


Labor, Public Transit, Rights, Right to the City, Transportation Geography, Urban Geography

Subject Categories



In recent years, a number of researchers in geography and in urban studies have taken to the idea of the "right to the city." These scholars have drawn on the idea to frame debates on topics as wide ranging as urban social movements, the regulation of urban public space, to the relationship between cities and citizenship. Implicit in this literature is a conception of the city and of urban space in which political conflict and class struggle are dominating features. This dissertation seeks to add to that discussion by focusing on debates over transit policy in California's East Bay. In addition to contributing to scholarship on the right to the city, this dissertation also broadly encroaches upon work in transportation geography. Drawing on three months of fieldwork, this dissertation makes two arguments. First, it argues that debates over rights ought to matter for those interested in the geography of urban transportation, and second, it argues for seeing urban mass transit as central to securing a right to the city. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with transit activists and a focus group with transit dependent riders, I highlight the degree to which the democratic rights of many East Bay residents hinge upon transit access. For many of these residents, a right to the city means a right to transit. Across six chapters of the dissertation, I also focus more broadly on the relationship between transit policy and conflicts over rights -- whether these conflicts take the form of labor disputes or civil rights lawsuits. These conflicts, I argue, have shaped the geography of transit in the region. While the dissertation highlights the importance of rights and the right to the city for understanding both the geography of urban transit, as well as transit's role in the public life of cities, it also highlights some of the challenges and contradictions associated with the idea of the right to the city. Toward the end of the dissertation I address these challenges and contradictions head-on by arguing for understanding the right to the city as a right against the "idiocy of urban life."

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Geography Commons