Theses Doctoral

The Rule of Choice: How economic theories from the 1950s became technologically embedded, politically contested urban policy in New York City from 2002-2013

West, John Haynal

To rule through choice is to create differentiated options for urban citizens who use public infrastructure and to produce information and price signals that guide decisions. It treats urban residents as rational consumers of public goods. Economists, planners and activists developed the rhetoric and tools of choice over the course of a half-century. This strategy moved from the fringes of planning and policy making to become widely accepted and adopted. How did this manifestation of choice become central to urban policy? What are the consequences of policies that emphasize individual choice? What can be done to make them conform to the ethical standards of planning? The dissertation that follows focuses on the origins and development of choice-based policy-making and the public dispute over it in New York City. Two cases elucidate the rule of choice. School choice and congestion pricing were signature policies for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (2002- 2013). In the 1950s two economists, William Vickrey and Milton Friedman, translated fundamental principles in that discipline into policy proposals in education and transportation governance. When the Bloomberg administration sought to govern education and roadway infrastructure through choice, this strategy became the source of public debate and deliberation. The history and contemporary politics of the two cases provide material for reflecting on core theoretical issues in planning, including the changing nature of liberalism, the meanings and uses of data and rationality and the role of the material world in producing and recreating modes of engaging with urban problems.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Thesis Advisors
Beauregard, Robert A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 6, 2016