Vacant Geographies: Dispossession, Resistance, and Speculative Futures in Philadelphia’s Abandoned Properties


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




Abandoned lots and buildings are a ubiquitous feature of postindustrial US cities, markers of the recent housing crisis, and perennial sources of concern for policymakers, researchers, and residents alike. In Philadelphia, where some neighborhoods are currently experiencing a development boom, properties deemed to be vacant are increasingly contested as residents challenge prevailing understandings of “highest and best use.” Using archival, legal, and participatory research, this dissertation examines emerging conflicts over the use, value, and ownership of these spaces. In doing so, it puts forward a politically productive framework for considering geographies of vacancy, which recognizes that vacant properties are not empty or stable, and also that they do critical work. These properties 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 law, private property, and urban commons.