Abandoned lots and buildings are a ubiquitous feature of post-industrial U.S. cities, markers of the recent housing crisis, and perennial sources of concern for policymakers, researchers, and residents alike. In cities like Philadelphia, which is currently experiencing a development boom, properties deemed ‘vacant’ are increasingly contested. In this project, I argue that within these emerging conflicts the frequent disjuncture between the use, value, and ownership of these spaces provides critical analytical openings in which to reconceptualize the (im)materialities of law, property, and the commons. In doing so, I put forward a politically productive framework for reconsidering geographies of vacancy.
Elsa Noterman is a doctoral candidate in the Geography Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work brings together feminist and critical geographies, legal scholarship, decolonial theory, and a focus on grassroots organizing in order to examine the socio-spatial contradictions that emerge through struggles over the everyday spaces of social reproduction – especially those related to housing and land. In particular, she is interested in how these contradictions destabilize normative institutions and what alternatives they might offer. Elsa centers social justice in her research practices, teaching, academic service, and scholarship in ways that aim to push academia in new directions. In doing so, she participates in interdisciplinary, collaborative, and action-oriented projects that seek to contribute to social change. Her work has been supported by the American Council of Learned Societies/Mellon Foundation, National Science Foundation, and UW-Madison. She is currently completing her dissertation, entitled “Vacant Geographies: (Dis)possession, Resistance, and Speculative Futures in Philadelphia’s Abandoned Properties."