Rethinking urban vacancy: ruins, re-use and politics in the ‘post-crisis’ city

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Urban Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM (Eastern Standard Time)
Room: Napoleon B1, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Organizers: Cian O'Callaghan
Chairs: Emma Fraser


The prevalence of unfinished developments, underutilised land, and ‘new ruins’ (Kitchin et al, 2014) in recent years has made “vacant space”, in various manifestations, a more visible and politicised feature of post-crisis urbanisation. The scale and severity of property bubbles in countries such as Spain, Portugal, Ireland and the US, coupled in some instances with foreclosure crises, left vast landscapes of stalled, unfinished or vacant developments and stagnant property markets. Debates about vacancy have been prominent in narratives about ‘crisis’, while escalating evictions in various urban contexts has politicised the discrepancy between buildings lying vacant at a time when housing need and homelessness have exploded. Contentious activist responses, including the occupation and squatting of vacant buildings to provide housing (Gonick, 2016; Roy, 2017), are indicative of vacancy as a point of political antagonism. At the same time, the pervasiveness of underutilised urban space has also stimulated wider engagements with re-using vacant spaces in cities (Bresnihan and Byrne, 2015; Ferreri 2015). The growth in popularity of ‘temporary uses’ at a grassroots and policy level, for example, is testament to the increased visibility of vacant spaces and to a mounting pressure to allow for new models of access in order to create ‘alterative’ projects. Such practices of “urban informality” have long been mirrored in Global South cities, where precarious property rights and limited formal employment opportunities have stimulated residents to pursue strategies that creatively remake liminal urban space for their own purposes (Caldeira, 2017; Ghertner, 2012; Roy, 2015; Simone, 2014). Through contentious engagements with vacant spaces, there is the potential to reframe norms around land-use, property, and entrepreneurial urbanism.

These events are taking place against a backdrop of ‘post-crisis’ urbanisation – understood here to refer to both cities that have been affected by property crashes and to the more general ways in which the ideological legitimacy of “entrepreneurial urbanism” has been challenged following the global financial crisis. Cities in both the Global North and Global South have been variously affected by ‘austerity urbanism’ (Peck, 2012), the growing financialisation of the built environment (Fields, 2017), and widening inequality (Wyly, 2015). At the same time, bottom-up, experimental engagements with urban space, urban politics, and everyday urban infrastructure may have the potential to open up alternative future urbanisms (Caldeira, 2017). Urban vacancy forms an important pivot around which such contestations will play out. In this way, vacant spaces have become key sites of urban governance; reframing the sets of actors involved in urban development and the possibilities of, and in, urban space (O’Callaghan et al, In press).

Now is an opportune time to rethink the multiple resonances of urban vacancy, ruin, and re-use. papers in this session will explicitly or implicitly use urban vacancy as a theoretical lens or empirical site to examine contemporary urban issues, broadly considered, in different parts of the world.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Cian O'Callaghan*, Trinity College Dublin, Rethinking vacancy: Governing possibility in the ruins of post-crash Dublin 20 3:20 PM
Presenter David Conradson*, University of Canterbury, The post-disaster politics of vacant urban space: contestation and conflict in Canterbury, New Zealand 20 3:40 PM
Presenter Alain Malherbe*, Université catholique de Louvain, Urban vacancy, in/visibility and politics at the margins of the city 20 4:00 PM
Presenter Alessandro Tiberio*, UC Berkeley, Molding Post-Neoliberal Cities: Decay, Neo-fascism and Resistance in the New Old Europe 20 4:20 PM

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