Speculating on vacancy

Authors: Elsa Noterman*, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Topics: Urban Geography, Cartography, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: property, vacancy, critical cartography, speculation, dispossession
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Washington 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Property speculation has long served a role in the (neo)colonial appropriation of land and the racialized uneven development of contemporary cities. This future-oriented approach to property acquisition and management is underpinned by notions of vacancy that erase past and present forms of possession and associate racialized spaces with lack. Efforts to define, represent, and manage the speculative value of 'vacant' properties through predictive mapping work to colonize the future. In this paper, I examine the role of vacant speculative cartographies in both reifying and undermining what legal scholar Brenna Bhandar (2018) refers to as "racial regimes of ownership." Specifically, I examine the city of Philadelphia’s current use of cartographic tools to predict property vacancy, the ways these tools are being adapted to create projective maps for real estate speculators, and how they relate to ongoing racialized dispossession. I then turn to consider the potential of speculative mapping to contribute to new political realities, not just prevailing geographies. To do so, I explore the efforts of artists and activists who are using mapmaking to reclaim and reimagine the space-times of properties deemed by city officials and developers to be 'empty' or 'wasted.' I suggest that while speculative cartographies of vacancy facilitate the consolidation of liberal property 'regimes,' they also allow for their disruption by revealing their situatedness and contingency.

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