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Defined as towns or villages that have been abandoned by their original inhabitants, the so-called ‘ghost towns’ are a sub-product of the opposing conditions of excessive urban growth in one hand and decline of rural regions on the other. Natural disasters, economic and demographic decline, armed conflict, disease and environmental contamination are repeatedly the drivers for their abandonment. An increasing large concentration of these abandoned small villages is found in the impoverished Southern regions of Italy. To investigate this problem and identify conservation approaches that could generate new dynamics to the abandoned historic villages, the paper starts by identifying the linkages between globalisation, rapid urbanisation and ghost towns. This is followed by an analysis of the root causes of ghost towns in an attempt to define a ghost town typology. With this in mind, this paper investigates integrated conservation approaches, which could promote the restoration of abandoned towns, strengthening their local identity and enhancing resource-efficient local economies. Based on these considerations, the paper focus the attention on three scenarios of rehabilitation: a community-led approach to conservation demonstrated by the medieval village Torri Superiore embedded in ecovillage principles; the hospitality concept albergo diffuso demonstrated by Albergo Diffuso Borgo di Castelvetere, acting as social, cultural and economic stimuli to depopulated villages; the Riace village humanitarian approach which has integrated migrants in the social fabric of its aging population. The paper ends by reflecting if Torri Superiore and Riace’s approaches offer a potential solution to the housing crises currently engulfing southern Europe. As a result of imaginative housing and food production practices, these villages have made significantly more progress than mainstream government approaches towards the realisation of sustainable communities by strengthening social cohesion, addressing climate change vulnerabilities, breaking the cycle of food insecurity, and improving housing status.
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