Policyfailing: The Case of Public Property Disposal in Washington, D.C.


  • Katie Wells Virginia Tech, Alexandria




Public homeless shelters, neoliberalism, urban development, gentrification strategy, public property disposal, policymaking, policyfailing, critical policy literature, governance


Public homeless shelters are at the center of a strategy for neoliberal urban development in Washington, D.C. City-level policymakers have sought to sell public property to developers who will convert the sites into luxury condos and boutique hotels, but the implementation of this policy has not been smooth. To understand the third-wave gentrification strategy of public property disposal, I argue that it is necessary to pay attention to the interruptions, exceptions, and stalled attempts at policymaking, which I call policyfailing. I contend that the growing critical policy literature on mobilities and mutations is keenly positioned to contribute to a research agenda about how policies fail to take hold evenly across space and time. Using the under-examined subject of public property disposal as an empirical vehicle, I examine some of the institutional mechanisms, ideologies, mobilizations, and regulatory practices through which public property disposal has worked in Washington, D.C. and, subsequently, how a different set of forces have created instances of policyfailing. I ultimately demonstrate how the concept of policyfailing can help geographers understand governance and its relationship to uneven development.


How to Cite

Wells, K. (2015). Policyfailing: The Case of Public Property Disposal in Washington, D.C. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 13(3), 473–494. https://doi.org/10.14288/acme.v13i3.1023