Research

My research interests include questions of urban inequality and class politics, urban governance, municipal finance, and economic development. Using approaches from urban planning, economic geography, and economic sociology, I study how urban policies change in times of “crisis,” how finance shapes urban policy, and how ideas about the economy become mobilized as common sense arguments for policy shifts.

My dissertation examines the dominant narratives of urban fiscal crisis and the implementation of austerity budgets and neoliberal governance in U.S. cities since 2000. I argue that urban fiscal crisis and the naturalization of urban austerity are restructuring the city’s policy limits, its obligations, and the relationship between finance and democracy. Much like New York’s 1975 near-bankruptcy, Detroit’s 2014 bankruptcy serves as a cautionary, inflammatory narrative that fuels a shift in fiscal policy by generalizing ideas of necessity, scarcity, and absence of alternatives. Using government finance data and financial audits, I describe the histories of retrenchment and entrepreneurial urbanism in four U.S. cities: Detroit, Dallas, Philadelphia and San Jose. I then analyse the narratives of ratings agencies, technocrats, politicians, and the financial press in calling for disciplinary policies: state takeover, pension “reform,” and fiscal monitoring.

I am writing a paper on techniques of austerity: Every city is broke: how urban austerity becomes normal to present at the 2014 AAG meeting. I argue that urban finance is depoliticized through a growing emphasis on technologies such as fiscal data transparency, participatory budgeting, and pension reform, all of which channel public participation away from social claims on city funds toward a politics of incrementalism and the naturalization of scarcity.

I am co-writing a paper on the displacement of fiscal and economic risk onto local governments, examining the complexity of financial instruments used by cities, forms of revenue privatization, and the growing structural fiscal precarity of U.S. cities. Our paper will be presented in “The post-crisis geography of risk production” panel at the AAG meeting. I have also started work on a project looking at efforts to regulate the municipal finance market at the city, state and federal levels (e.g. by limiting swaps agreements and requiring that municipal brokers disclose conflicts of interest).

Using Census government finance data and state databases on local debt issuance, I am writing an article on the role of municipal debt in urban fiscal crisis that documents the growing complexity of municipal financial instruments, and the rising influence of ratings agencies on cities’ access to capital and revenue.

Finally, I have begun to look at how the idea of “crisis” is fueling the remaking of public education, and how that remaking overlaps with urban transformations, such as in New Orleans, Detroit, and Chicago. Public education “reform” has many of the same elements as neoliberal urbanism: dismantling work arrangements, reshaping service expectations, idealizing the market, and fixating on competitiveness. I study how parents challenge these dominant narratives of reform. The dynamics of “anti-austerity” politics – community defense of urban equality – will be an important part of my future research.