Front Matter

The New Urban Ruins

The New Urban Ruins

Vacancy, Urban Politics and International Experiments in the Post-crisis City

Edited by

Cian O’Callaghan and Cesare Di Feliciantonio

First published in Great Britain in 2021 by

Policy Press

University of Bristol

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© Policy Press 2021

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  • List of figures and tables ix

  • Notes on contributors xi

  • Acknowledgements xiv

  • Introduction

    Cian O’Callaghan and Cesare Di Feliciantonio 1

  1. Part I Rethinking ruination in the post-crisis context
    1. 1 Rem(a)inders of loss: a Lacanian approach to new urban ruins

      Lucas Pohl 21

    2. 2 Dignifying the ruins: a former Jewish girls’ school in BerlinKaren E. Till 35
    3. 3 Traversing wastelands: reflections on an abandoned railway yard

      Sandra Jasper 53

    4. 4 Building the new urban ruin: the ghost city of Ordos Kangbashi, Inner Mongolia

      Christina Lee 73

  1. Part II The political economy of urban vacant space
    1. 5 Nullius no more? Valorising vacancy through urban agriculture in the settler-colonial ‘green city’

      Nathan McClintock 91

    2. 6 Conflicting rationalities and messy actualities of dealing with vacant housing in Halle/Saale, East Germany

      Nina Gribat 109

    3. 7 Post-disaster ruins: the old, the new and the temporary

      Sara Caramaschi and Alessandro Coppola 125

    4. 8 The post-crisis properties of demolishing Detroit, Michigan

      Michael R.J. Koscielniak 145

    5. 9 Guarding resence: absent owners and the labour of managing vacancy

      Lauren Wagner 163

  1. Part III Reappropriating urban vacant spaces
    1. 10 Politicising vacancy and commoning housing in municipalist Barcelona

      Mara Ferreri 181

    2. 11 Spatio-legal world-making in vacant buildings: property politics and squatting movements in the city of São Paulo

      Matthew Caulkins 197

    3. 12 (Im)Material infrastructures and the reproduction of alternative social projects in urban vacant spaces

      Cesare Di Feliciantonio and Cian O’Callaghan 211

    4. 13 Tracing the role of material and immaterial infrastructures in imagining diverse urban futures: Dublin’s Bolt Hostel and Apollo House

      Rachel McArdle 229

  • Conclusion: Centring vacancy – towards a research agenda

    Cian O’Callaghan and Cesare Di Feliciantonio 243

List of figures and tables


  1. 2.1Detail of Ram Katzir’s ‘Milk Teeth’, 2006 43
  2. 2.2Detail of Martha Roseler’s ‘Reading Hannah Arendt (Politically)’, 2006 45
  3. 3.1Assemblages of plants flourishing in the abandoned Schöneweide railway yard, Berlin, May 2020 56
  4. 3.2The abandoned tracks of the Schöneweide railway yard, Berlin, provide habitats for the sand lizard and various ground-breeding birds, May 2020 57
  5. 3.3A newly paved road with street trees and bike racks cutting through the Schöneweide railway wasteland, May 2020 62
  6. 4.1New residential complexes, Kangbashi 77
  7. 4.2Genghis Khan Square, Kangbashi 79
  8. 4.3Abandoned construction site, Dongsheng 80
  9. 4.4Man asleep in the Cultural and Art Centre, Kangbashi 83
  10. 4.5Makeshift dwelling in a commercial building, Kangbashi 83
  11. 7.1Post-emergency solutions in L’Aquila 128
  12. 7.2Taxonomy of the conditions, the actors involved and the factors and impacts that result in different forms of vacancy, abandonment, underoccupancy and ruination of the stock 131
  13. 7.3Case studies and location map 132
  14. 9.1View of houses across a field, near Tangier Boukhalef, 2015 164
  15. 9.2On-site advertising for an apartment complex under construction, Tangier 2015 168
  16. 9.3The post of guardian, Tangier 2015 171
  17. 9.4Being shown around an apartment complex by a security guard, Tangier 2012 174
  18. 10.1Stencil graffiti on a wall, District Sants-Montjuic, May 2019 188
  19. 10.2Banner drop at Bloc Llavors, District Sants-Montjuic, May 2019 191


  1. 8.1Reimbursement sought by Adamo after demolishing the structure at 18410 Stout Street 152
  2. 8.2Hardest Hit Fund lien annual discount 153
  3. 8.3Backfill source sites by category 155

Notes on contributors

Sara Caramaschi is a postdoctoral research fellow in urban studies at the Gran Sasso Science Institute, Italy. Her research focuses mainly on the evolution, uses and meanings of the built environment, with particular reference to processes of emptiness in contexts of urban contraction and post-crises cities.

Mathew Caulkins studied architecture in Sao Paulo, a master’s in urban planning in Santiago de Chile and a PhD in urban studies in Melbourne. He is currently organising a laboratory at the Universidad de Concepción, Chile, focused on analysing property expressions in Indigenous spaces in various cities of the region of Biobio.

Alessandro Coppola is Assistant Professor at the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning at Politecnico di Milano, Italy. He has had research, teaching and visiting appointments at several institutions. His research interests include urban policies and governance, resilience, and urban informality. His work has featured in journals such as Urban Geography, Urban Studies and European Planning Studies.

Cesare Di Feliciantonio holds a double PhD in geography from Sapienza University of Rome and KU Leuven. He is Lecturer in Human Geography at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. His work has been published in, among others, Antipode, European Urban and Regional Studies, Gender, Place & Culture, Geoforum, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research and Urban Geography.

Mara Ferreri is Vice-Chancellor Research Fellow in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences at Northumbria University, UK. Her research interests include urban precarity, temporary and platform urbanism, and housing commons. She is the author of The Permanence of Temporary Urbanism: Normalising Precarity in Austerity London (AUP, 2021).

Nina Gribat is Professor of Urban Planning at B-TU Cottbus, Germany. Her research focuses on urban restructuring processes and conflicts in the context of planning in the Global North and South, as well as study reforms in architecture and planning since the 1960s and 1970s.

Sandra Jasper is Junior Professor of Geography at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Her research interests are in urban nature, soundscapes and feminist theory. She is co-editor of The Botanical City (Jovis, 2020) and co-producer of Natura Urbana: The Brachen of Berlin (2017, UK/Germany, 72 mins). She is currently completing her first monograph on the experimental spaces of West Berlin supported by a Graham Foundation grant.

Michael R.J. Koscielniak studies decline as an urbanisation process of racial capitalism. He focuses on policies, pathways and pipelines that extract value from built environments. By concentrating on logistical and environmental operations, he contributes to renewed approaches to rentiership and disinvestment. He is Assistant Professor at Eastern Michigan University, US.

Christina Lee is Senior Lecturer in English and Cultural Studies at Curtin University, Australia. She is the author of Screening Generation X: The Politics and Popular Memory of Youth in Contemporary Cinema (Routledge, 2010) and the editor of Spectral Spaces and Hauntings: The Affects of Absence (Routledge, 2017) and Violating Time: History, Memory, and Nostalgia in Cinema (Bloomsbury, 2008).

Rachel McArdle is an urban geographer and Lecturer based at Maynooth University, Ireland. She is interested in the way people make spaces and places in the city, and past research has focused on creative cities, festivals, autonomous spaces, squats and other provisional uses of the urban.

Nathan McClintock is Associate Professor of Urban Studies at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) in Montréal, Québec. He received his PhD in geography from UC Berkeley, and has published on urban political ecology, urban agriculture and environmental justice in a wide range of journals and edited volumes.

Cian O’Callaghan is Assistant Professor in Geography at Trinity College Dublin. Working in the area of urban and cultural geography, his recent Irish Research Council-funded research was broadly concerned with the impacts of Ireland’s property bubble and associated crisis, with a particular focus on housing, urban vacancy and spatial justice.

Lucas Pohl is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Geography of Humboldt-University Berlin, Germany. He received his PhD with a dissertation on a psychoanalytic approach to urban ruins. He works on the interstices between human geography, psychoanalysis and philosophy, with a focus on spatial theory, built environments and politics.

Karen E. Till is Professor of Cultural Geography at Maynooth University, Ireland. She directs the MA in Spatial Justice and the Space & Place Research Collaborative, and is co-convener of the Mapping Spectral Traces international network. Her numerous publications include The New Berlin: Memory, Politics, Place (University of Minnesota Press, 2005). Her book in progress, Wounded Cities, highlights the significance of place-based memory-work and ethical forms of care.

Lauren Wagner is a sociolinguist and human geographer, and Assistant Professor in Globalisation and Development at Maastricht University, the Netherlands. She uses microanalysis of everyday encounters, compiling interactional, observational and experiential data, to investigate issues around diasporic mobilities and belongings between Morocco and Europe. More of her work is available at:


This edited collection stems from a workshop hosted in Trinity College Dublin in March 2017. This workshop and the subsequent edited collection was supported by funding from the Irish Research Council (IRC) under the New Horizons Research Scheme 2015 for the project ‘The New Urban Ruins: Vacancy and the Post-crisis City’ (IRC/REPRO/2015/118). We would like to thank the IRC for enabling this scholarly exchange and facilitating the building of this scholarly community. We also thank all those who helped in the running and attended the workshop, especially those who chaired sessions. We would like to thank our supportive colleagues at the Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin; the Department of Geography and the Maynooth Institute for Social Sciences (MUSSI) in Maynooth University; the School of Geography, Geology and the Environment, University of Leicester; and the Department of Natural Sciences, Manchester Metropolitan University. Thanks to Maedhbh Nic Lochlainn, Tommy Gavin and Kathleen Stokes for proofreading. Finally, we thank our families for allowing us the time to finalise this collection amid the difficulties of lockdowns in 2020 and early 2021.

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