Themis Chronopoulos

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Research Projects

Urban Governance and Spatial Ordering

This project has culminated to a book entitled Spatial Regulation in New York City: From Urban Renewal to Zero Tolerance (New York: Routledge, 2011). The book — which was awarded the 2012 Arthur Miller Centre First Book Prize for the best first book in American Studies — demonstrates how spatial regulation became one of the most important ways to reverse the decline of New York City in the post–WorldWar II period. As New York began to lose its status as a leading global city, the perception of urban disorder, whether that disorder was physical (e.g., slums, shabby streets, crumbling infrastructure) or social (e.g., homeless people, hustlers, rowdy teenagers), represented a threat to the middle class and investors and thus to the financial and political viability of the city government. Consequently, mayors and other elected and nonelected leaders mounted initiatives such as urban renewal, exclusionary zoning, anti-vagrancy laws, and order-maintenance policing to control, if not erase, disorder. These initiatives were part of a class project that deflected attention from the underlying causes of poverty, eroded civil rights, and sought to enable real estate investment, high-end consumption, mainstream tourism, and corporate success. The various strategies of spatial ordering that were employed corresponded to shifts in political ideology. Liberals who dominated New York City politics between the 1940s and the early 1970s emphasized physical solutions against disorder such as urban renewal and the elimination of slums. However, as urban renewal became discredited and crime increased dramatically, neoconservatives denounced postwar liberalism as the source of the city's decline. After the fiscal crisis of 1975, brands of neoliberalism and neoconservatism merged and articulated a new vision of spatial regulation based on aggressive policing. Instead of redeveloping low-income African American and Latino neighborhoods, the authorities targeted people who committed minor infractions in public space. By the 1990s, these efforts to regulate urban space were promoted under the banners of "broken windows" and "zero-tolerance policing." A variant of this project involves policing and the criminal justice system in the United States. There are articles and an edited collection associated with this project that are in progress. Some of them examine urban governance and ordering from a longer historical perspective while others explore the making of the orderly city in recent decades.

Municipal Services, Urban Infrastructure, and Public Policy

This project explores the causes of extreme neighborhood decline in New York City and will result in a book entitled When the Government Disappears: Inadequate Municipal Service Delivery and the Decline of New York City, 1945-1985. The main argument is that the decline and collapse of the physical environment of low income neighborhoods in New York City was not predestined, but occurred because of choices made by the city and state governments. The origins of these choices can be found in the 1950s, a period when the racial make-up of African American and Latino neighborhoods began to crystallize because of housing discrimination and segregationist city planning. The situation deteriorated in the 1960s despite an increase of municipal expenditures and federal government initiatives such as the War on Poverty. Policies associated with the welfare state such as income maintenance did not repair caving sidewalks or obsolete fire hydrants. The government retrenchment that commenced in the mid-1970s because of New York's fiscal crisis only added to the urban problems already apparent in minority neighborhoods and did not cause them. African American and Latino neighborhoods in postwar New York City declined and eventually collapsed because of the gradual disappearance of essential municipal services. With chapters examining the maldistribution of sanitation provision, policing, and firefighting, this book intervenes in the scholarly literature of urban studies by claiming that despite processes such as suburbanization and deindustrialization, low income neighborhoods in U.S. cities collapsed because their city government neglected them. In many ways, this project explores the development of a pattern of urban government deficiency that defined sizable cities in the Americas south of Canada. Once the New York City portion of the project is completed, this shortcoming in governance will be explored from a regional and transnational perspective.

Neighborhood Change and Gentrification

This project examines neighborhood change in urban locations of the United States since the 1970s. Gentrification is a major component of this project, though neighborhoods that are not gentrifying, especially low income ones, are also explored. Citywide and neighborhood characteristics researched include race, class, housing, commercial infrastructure, public space, income, occupation, cost of living, and age. The first major part of the project concerns neighborhoods and areas of New York City. Those include the South Bronx, Hamilton Heights, East Village, Harlem, East Harlem, Hunters Point, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and Bedford-Stuyvesant. The project will continue with neighborhoods in other U.S. cities. Comparative citywide writings are also being prepared.

Neoliberal Urbanization and the Politics of Space

This project explores the dynamics of inequality in world cities located around the world. In recent decades, new modes of urban governance extend the logic of the competitive marketplace into the concept of citizenship. Rather than being a possession defined by the simple rights of persons, citizenship becomes a capacity to act according to the particular circumstances in which individuals find themselves. This transformation of citizenship has profound and contradictory effects in urban space. One the one hand, individuals are expected to be spatially hyper-mobile, if they are to fully take advantage of opportunities generated by the free market. On the other hand, this neoliberal expectation of mobility is compromised by the rising enclosure and fortification of spaces and boundaries that were previously more open and unrestricted. This in turn marginalizes the movement in space of low income people such as itinerant workers, sidewalk vendors, street artists, immigrants, and gatherers of recyclables — populations with a tradition in the entrepreneurial use of space. Through the analysis of cultural productions as well as ethnographic and archival research, this project seeks to provide explanations of the neoliberal contradictions of spatial mobility, fortification, and gentrification and their relationship to shifting definitions of citizenship.


Themis Chronopoulos
Associate Professor of American Studies
Department of Political and Cultural Studies
Swansea University
Swansea SA2 8PP