Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Libby Garland


Sidewalks, New York City, Public space, Pedestrianism


Through an exploration of the rise in regulation of Manhattan’s largest public space, the sidewalk, Spaces of Statecraft explores the history and socio-spatial implications of the rise of bureaucratic states at a hyper local level. The thesis investigates a period of more than just an expansion of rules; it provides insight into an era of rapid change in perceptions and practices of statecraft in New York City. Uncovering and analyzing how battles over public space unfolded in Manhattan helps to explain the formation of the local state at the turn of the twentieth century.

The local state gave mobility priority over competing uses of the right-of-way, such as vending or public speaking. The growing claim to mobility became the means through which the municipality justified restrictions of other activities. I examine why legal protections and rights for other activities within the right-of-way struggled to overcome a bureaucratic preference for unrestricted pedestrian mobility. Further, I examine whether there are alternative conceptions of the sidewalk, besides those based in rights, that would be helpful in understanding how to overcome the logic of orderly pedestrian movement. Through this examination, I hope readers will gain a better understanding of the contemporary sidewalk and question the hegemony of mobility on New York’s sidewalk.

I ask how New York City’s street came to be a place that prioritizes the orderly flow of pedestrians and vehicles over alternative uses of the right-of-way. I examine how traffic flow became the primary purpose of the street through a review of the actions of judges, policymakers, and the police. I examine the sidewalk through a rationality of pedestrian flow and order, rather than through rationalities of various rights-based claims that are the focus of much public space scholarship.