The right to move: informal use rights and urban practices of mobility

Joseph Pierce*, Mary Lawhon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Everyday urban practices are enabled by both formal and informal rights regimes. Researchers often focus on the effects of formal rights; informal rights to use urban spaces have been less widely examined, particularly in North America. This article examines practices of intra-urban mobility in a gentrifying area of Portland, Oregon. We find that rights regimes regarding movement in urban space importantly shape who uses particular transit strategies and infrastructures. Specifically, we identify rights regimes rooted in explications of a city ideal and a neighborhood ethic. We suggest that Portland’s widely admired transit planning process has not sufficiently engaged with informal use rights in transit spaces, leading to uneven adoption of a transportation infrastructure that re-inscribes historic racialized injustices. An examination of informal use rights complicates common rights analytics, including those leveraging Lefebvre’s right to the city, emphasizing how all urban rights are contingent, contested and negotiated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)667-686
Number of pages20
JournalUrban Geography
Issue number5
Early online date28 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • gentrification
  • informality
  • mobility
  • Portland
  • Rights
  • transit spaces


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