Vacant Geographies

Authors: Elsa Noterman*, University of Cambridge
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: property, vacancy, dispossession, urban development
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 30
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The concept of vacancy has long served as a spatio-legal justification for racialized dispossession in the U.S., rendering land empty and communities illegible, and opening frontiers for proprietary ‘improvement.’ In this paper, I suggest that the ongoing re-production and management of ‘vacant’ geographies in U.S. cities allows for a consideration of the ongoing interface of settler colonial and racial capitalist logics in city spaces. Specifically, I reflect on the role of vacancy in relation to the development of Philadelphia by meditating on the resonances of two contested moments in the city’s history: re-figurations of the 1682 ‘Great Treaty’ between William Penn and Tamanend of the Lenni Lenape nation, and struggles around the redevelopment and marking of the site where, in 1985, Philadelphia police bombed the headquarters of the Black liberation movement, MOVE. In doing so, I argue that attending to critical geographies of vacancy allows for a perspective on urban development that, in holding together multiple spaces-times, highlights not only the persistent violence of settler racial capitalist property regimes in cities, but also ongoing resistance that reassembles past-present-future city spaces.

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