Narratives of Appropriation

Abandoned Spaces, Entangled Stories and Profound Urban Transformations


  • Dalia Milián Bernal



Based on a narrative inquiry, this article presents the stories of four women who are, individually and collectively, appropriating vacant and abandoned urban spaces, physically transforming them, providing them with new uses, while unleashing other processes that have the potential to lead to profound systemic transformations. Building on these stories, the article discusses the notion of appropriation, utilizing Henri Lefebvre’s writings. The key argument of the article is that, through the appropriation of these urban spaces, these women are asserting their right to the city and their right to challenge and participate in the processes of urbanization. 

Author Biography

Dalia Milián Bernal

Dalia Milián Bernal is a doctoral researcher and lecturer at the School of Architecture, Faculty of the Built Environment at Tampere University in Finland. Her background is in the field of architecture and her current research focuses on the temporary uses of vacant and abandoned urban spaces in the context of Latin America. Delving into online arenas, following several cases, and applying different analytic methods of narrative inquiry, she aims to explain why temporary uses develop across Latin American cities and unearth their deeper meaning. Currently, she teaches sociospatial aspects of sustainable architecture, critical urban theory and, since 2019, she coordinates the IFHP Urban Planning and Design Summer School in Finland. She is the co-founder of the collective-blog Interrogativa, a platform that discusses diverse urban processes through the perspective of women and their experience of urban space.


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US Census Bureau, Selected Housing Characteristics, Vacant Housing Units, 2019: ACS 1-Year Estimates Data Profiles,, accessed 11 March 2021.

Lexico English Dictionary (2021), definition of ‘appropriate’,

Chris Butler, ‘Exploring the Contours of the Right to the City: Abstraction, Appropriation and Utopia’, in: Michael E. Leary-Owhin and John P. McCarthy (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Henri Lefebvre, The City and Urban Society (London/New York, 2019), 457-466.

Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford, 1991), 306.

Butler, ‘Exploring the Contours’, op. cit. (note 6), 458.

Lefebvre, The Production of Space, op. cit. (note 7), 380.

Catherine K. Riessman, Narrative Methods for the Human Sciences (Boston College, 2008), 3.

A thorough description of this process was published in: Dalia Milián Bernal, ‘Temporary Uses of Vacant and Abandoned Urban Spaces in Latin America: An Exploration’, Nordic Association of Architectural Research: Proceedings Series (2020).

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Omarya Rivera Crespo, personal communication, 23 March 2018.

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A huerto is a small vegetable garden.

Marina Moscoso Arabía, personal communication, 6 March 2018.

The Asociación Residentes Machuchal Revive Inc. was registered on 16 October 2013. See:

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How to Cite

Milián Bernal, D. . (2022). Narratives of Appropriation: Abandoned Spaces, Entangled Stories and Profound Urban Transformations. Writingplace, (6), 69–89.