The Vortex of Rights: ‘Right to the City’ at a Crossroads


  • I would like to extend my gratitude to friends, colleagues and comrades who helped shape the ideas reflected in this article. I am especially indebted to the Right to the City Alliance activists in New York City and Boston both for the inspiration and guidance they provided through their day-to-day struggle and political action. Yunus Doğan Telliel, David Harvey and Sinan Hoşadam provided insightful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript, while the anonymous IJURR referees had invaluable suggestions for the ultimate form this article should take. Finally, special thanks go to Ayça Çubukçu and Neil Smith for their foundational role in the formation of my thoughts in this article and certainly beyond. This article is dedicated to the memory of Neil Smith.


The right to the city concept has recently attracted a great deal of attention from radical theorists and grassroots activists of urban justice, who have embraced the notion as a means to analyze and challenge neoliberal urbanism. It has, moreover, drawn considerable attention from United Nations (UN) agencies, which have organized meetings and outlined policies to absorb the notion into their own political agendas. This wide-ranging interest has created a conceptual vortex, pulling together discordant political projects behind the banner of the right to the city. This article analyzes such projects by reframing the right to the city concept to foreground its roots in Marxian labor theory of value. It argues that Lefebvre's formulation of the right to the city — based on the contradiction between use value and exchange value in capitalist urbanism — is invaluable for analyzing and delineating contradictory urban politics that are pulled into the vortex of the right to the city. Following Lefebvre's lead in such an analysis, however, reveals certain limitations of Lefebvre's own account. The article therefore concludes with a theoretical proposition that aims to open up space for further critical debate on the right to the city.