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Vacant Geographies

Authors: Elsa Noterman*, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: property, vacancy, dispossession, urban development
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The concept of vacancy has long served as a spatio-legal justification for racialized dispossession and displacement, rendering land empty and communities illegible, and opening settler colonial frontiers for proprietary ‘improvement.’ In this paper, I suggest that the ongoing colonial trajectories of the production and management of vacancy in U.S. cities – especially through liberal property regimes – allow for a consideration of the interface of settler colonial and racial capitalist logics in urban development. Specifically, I trace the role of vacancy in relation to the development of Philadelphia by meditating on several contested moments in the city’s history. In doing so, I conceptualize vacancy as a kind of ‘spatialization’ – or multiple converging socio-spatial relations – that exceeds even as it reinforces and legitimates the processes that produce space as empty. Accordingly, I offer an alternative framework for considering urban ‘vacant geographies’ – or those spaces deemed empty by the state and the market – which recognizes that not only are they not empty or stable, but they do critical work. They reflect the violent processes that produce them, but also reveal the limits to these processes – limits that offer analytical openings for destabilizing normative notions of urban development and property.

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