Tearing Down the City to Save it? New Journal Article Shines Light on Cleveland's "Demolition Coalition"

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SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
A newly published article in SAGE Publications' Environment and Planning Journal explores the emergence of a powerful "demolition coalition" in Cleveland and the socio-political factors that have contributed to the popularity of demolition as a response to the housing crisis locally. 

"Tearing down the city to save it? 'Back-door regionalism' and the demolition coalition in Cleveland," by researchers Emily Rosenman, of the University of British Columbia, and Samuel Walker, of the University of Toronto, argues that demolition is in fact a limited response to an extremely complicated housing market. Yet Cleveland's demolition coalition, led by Jim Rokakis, has been "instrumental in cementing and promoting a political consensus that frames curbing housing devaluation as the primary municipal role in housing crisis recovery. This consensus is grounded in an underlying post-industrial logic of municipal governance: pursuit of growth at (nearly all costs." 

When Scene spoke with councilman Jeff Johnson for a story about a Cleveland housing survey and demolition funding this summer, he said he knew Rokakis was deeply concerned about housing in Northeast Ohio, but that his philosophy was underpinned by a belief that residents were gone and not coming back.

"There is not a true, sincere, holistic approach to housing in this region," Johnson said.

Rosenman and Walker would say that the demolition approach, spearheaded by Rokakis, arose out of failed efforts (or lack of meaningful attempts) on the Federal level to challenge the private interests responsible for the root causes of the housing crisis — banks — but that the demolition efforts in Cleveland "add up to a nascent urban regime of 'austerity urban renewal' ... in which the land-based interests of the growth machine collaborate to tear down the city (as a place) in the hope of saving it (as a site attractive to a new round of capital investment). 

The paper shows how effectively Rokakis has preached his gospel - "the consensus is powerful enough that local politicians associate high demolition rates with 'sound planning' in the 'fight against blight' — and that though demolition has indeed had "appreciable effects" on local housing values and has opened up vacant lots for community use, there is also a great deal of potential collateral damage: 

"A surprising number of key elements of what define "the urban" will be sacrificed in attempts to restore the attraction of a place for outside capital," Rosenman and Walker write.  

In summary: "The city is literally razed to the ground in a desperate attempt to save it." 


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