Christopher Mele “Casinos, Prisons, Incinerators, and Other Fragments of Neoliberal Urban Development”

chesterPrivatization of government offices is not new to the 21st Century. Neoliberalism became very popular in early 20th century in order to counter act the negative economic impact experienced  in major US cities at the height of  industrialization and suburban flight. Christopher Mele divides this neoliberal form of government into two phases; the “rolling back” phase when local governments relaxed regulations in order to attract city development; and subsequently the “rolling out” phase when governments partnered with private industry to develop large venues such as casinos and sports stadiums, to enhance economic profit within the city. Mele presents the case of Chester, Pennsylvania, a small, industrial city in the southeastern part of the state, as an example of the two phases neoliberalism.

Chester, PA is a poor city with high rates of crime and gang activity, as well as poor quality schools. Similar to other major cities in the US at that time, the city of Chester experienced industrial decline and suburbanization, leaving the city poor and desolate. Following poor city planning and redevelopment initiatives, the city has become fragmented with each piece having its own specific functions and demographics with little interaction between them. These disjointed enclaves are a result of the first wave of “chasing the smokestacks”, a local version of “rolling back”, which is characterized as actively rolling back urban land use policies while the government prepares to promote private sector development. Following the rollback period of the 1980s, the “rolling out” phase of neoliberalism began in Chester in the 1990s, as the government incentivized private industry capital to invest in their cities. Specifically targeted were sports and entertainment industries.


These public-private partnerships did not take into account concerns of citizens as evidenced by the noise and air pollution emanating from the waste management zone along the waterfront, causing citizens to become concerned with their health and well being. Instead of accommodating private development, private partnerships have come to define how public spaces are used, and these practices further disenfranchise already marginalized groups from the public atmosphere.





Leave a Reply