Towards a genuinely critical urban transport theory, policy and practice: mobilising Henri Lefebvre’s right to the city

Room F
Monday, 31 August 2015
13.00 – 14.45
mobility, right to the city, urban geography

Urban transport increasingly functions not just as a framework for moving people and goods, but also as a key component of urban entrepreneurial portfolios and public-private land rent valorisation strategies. As mainstream urban transport policy tends to focus on stimulating urban competitiveness, and hence on connecting selected territories and social groups, some existing transport practices — e.g. congestion charging, zero-fare public transport — claim to offer a more progressive, inclusive and just approach to the way transport infrastructure takes shape. However, there is no comprehensive theory allowing to critically and systematically analyse their allegedly alternative character to the urban entrepreneurial mainstream.

This paper hopes to contribute to the development of such a critical perspective on transport policies and practices by turning to Henri Lefebvre’s ([1968] 1996) conceptualisation of “the right to the city.” However, rather than dilute its transformative ambition by dividing it into separable liberal-democratic “rights” (e.g. to mobility or transport), Lefebvre’s call is approached as a fundamental intellectual antidote to the entrepreneurial condition. This guides a working typology of three main approaches to urban transport — (i) “mainstream”/a-political; (ii) “sustainable”/post- political and (iii) alternative/critical — and consequently helps identify several key aspects that an urban transport policy or practice should incorporate to genuinely enable citizens to appropriate and produce urban space, to challenge existing configurations of power, to become concerned with the total sum of aspects regarding the urban environment, and to acquire a utopian character.

This typology is then applied to empirically examine the power relations behind the production of transport policy in Brussels. 

Wojciech Kębłowski
Université libre de Bruxelles, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
wojciech.keblowski [at]

Organizing Partners

Main Sponsors