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A Cleveland model?

Experiments in alternative urbanism in the Rustbelt
Alessandro Coppola

Résumés

Cet article montre que la ville de Cleveland offre trois principaux exemples de politiques urbaines alternatives de développement qui sont profondément enracinées dans un contexte de rétrécissement urbain persistant : 1) la mise en place d’une banque foncière visant à assembler des terrains inutilisés pour les réutiliser pour d’autres usages tels que l’agriculture urbaine et la restauration écologique ; 2) la conception d’un programme – l’initiative « Réinventer un Cleveland plus durable » – visant la mise en œuvre de stratégies d’écologisation innovantes par la mobilisation des résidents et des communautés locales ; 3) l’investissement des institutions philanthropiques locales dans le développement économique afin de favoriser la création de coopératives locales opérant sur un marché également local, mais sans se focaliser exclusivement sur les produits et services de « l’économie verte ». Après avoir décrit et discuté ces pratiques, l’article montre que le cas de Cleveland représente une évolution vis-à-vis du modèle antérieur de développement urbain néolibéral, largement mis en œuvre dans la « Rustbelt » des États-Unis. Les principaux éléments de cette nouvelle approche sont les suivants : 1) un nouveau traitement de l’empreinte physique de la ville en lien avec la littérature sur le « smart shrinkage » et le « rightsizing » ; 2) l’acceptation du retour d’une partie des terrains à leur valeur d’usage et à l’écart des circuits de la marchandisation ; 3) le réexamen de la priorité donnée au développement immobilier par la « Community development industry », à travers la formulation d’un ensemble plus diversifié de politiques et de programmes ; 4) l’investissement des acteurs importants de la ville dans les modèles de développement économique alternatifs visant à relocaliser l’économie ; 5) l’importance croissante des objectifs de durabilité sociale et environnementale dans l’expansion des systèmes de production et de distribution alternatifs.

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Introduction – The hard-core of urban shrinkage

1The phenomenon of so-called urban shrinkage has attracted worldwide attention from the 2000s on (Oswalt, 2005; 2006; Martinez-Fernandez et al., 2012). Definitions of urban shrinkage have primarily taken in account the consistence and persistence of population loss affecting cities and regions (Pallagst, 2009), with a specific attention to cases of shrinkage located in deindustrialized regions and areas that experienced structural shocks as in the case of former Eastern European socialist countries (Bernt, 2009). In the United States, shrinkage is peculiar for its persistence, concentration and severity (Pallagst, 2005). Following Beauregard’s and Frey’s arguments and data, we can assess the existence of a group of “hard-core shrinking cities” characterized by the long-term persistence of population losses within the borders of their urban cores – Beauregard (2009) lists large cities that have been losing population without interruption since 1950 – and the more recent spread of demographic decline or extremely slow growth in their metropolitan areas documented by Frey (2005) and by more recent studies (Coppola, 2011). Cities like Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Cleveland, Youngstown – urban core and metropolitan areas declining since 1950 – and Detroit – persistent decline in the urban core and extremely slow growth in the metropolitan region – are part of this group.

2In the US context, urban shrinkage has been shaped by multiple and reciprocally reinforcing factors, leading to an enduring and self-filling cycle of urban decline that can be seen as the outcome of changing patterns of uneven development across the space of contemporary capitalistic economies (Harvey, 1982; Smith, 1984). In the economic realm, extensive processes of deindustrialization affecting the “Rustbelt” (the old manufacturing region located in the Mid-west of the country) linked to spreading delocalization, first in the US Sunbelt (the area stretching from the South-West to the West), and later at a global scale. This delocalization has been favoured by specific government policies and international agreements, which have been among the most influential drivers of regional decline. In the area of urban policy, government investments in infrastructures favouring suburban locations, entrenched housing and credit policies favouring suburban homeownership while discriminating cities and urban populations, reduction in federal aid to cities and “New Federalism” local powers’ restructuring have been equally influential in determining the concentration of decline and disinvestment in urban areas (Coppola, 2012). All these factors have been exacerbated and justified by a deeply rooted cultural preference for “exit” over “voice” in American ideology (Hirschman, 1970), fully in display in the high rates of residential mobility, in the strong patterns of class and racial spatial clustering and in the resulting processes of stark devaluation involving large segments of the housing stock. In the Rustbelt, these self-filling cycles of decline have led over the decades to the creation of dystopian post-urban spaces characterized by the collapse of fundamental economic and social structures. Many Rustbelt inner-cities have faced the long-term decline of their economic basis, the faltering of their real-estate market with the spread of vacancies and abandonment, the decimation of their distributive systems leading to the emergence of “food deserts” and the slashing of their tax basis with the long-term entrenchment of austerity policies (Coppola, 2012).

3Furthermore, these cities – following larger patterns characterizing US urbanism – are not simply affected by a sustained and persistent process of population decline, but also by deep processes of class selection, racialization and impoverishment of their population. At least in the case of the United States, urban shrinkage is in fact associated with extensively documented forms of spatialization of class and racial differences and more specifically with racial segregation and poverty concentration. Compared to their suburban counterparts, most shrinking cities are characterized by very low median income levels, high poverty and incarceration rates and also by the spread of epidemics and other health problems. As already mentioned, these indicators of social disadvantage are linked to a racial composition of the population characterized in most cases by a majority of African-American residents and by the underrepresentation of whites and non-African-American minorities. From this point of view, Rustbelt shrinking cities and metropolitan areas perfectly embody the stark racial division between black inner cities and white suburbs that has justified the use of the concept of “apartheid” in the analysis of US urbanism (Massey and Denton, 1993). For all these reasons, there is a need to revisit the urban shrinkage literature in order to engage with larger set of phenomena and factors characterizing cities that are experiencing demographic decline.

4In the context of this dystopian condition, for many years “hard-core shrinking cities” have consistently deployed urban development models and tools offered by the neoliberal repertoire. Competition with booming suburbs, edge cities and raising Sunbelt metropolitan regions on residential, retail and offices markets, have pushed city governments to aggressively pursue private reinvestments in the inner city, often embracing imaginary visions of entertainment and tourist developments (Coppola, 2012; Harvey, 2000). Business-friendly fiscal and planning policies have been accompanied by the spread of massive downtown redevelopment programs, aimed at re-branding declining inner-cities (Hackworth, 2006). Following a path of a “double-faced development model”, the so called “Community Development Industry” – the system of philanthropic and non-profit organizations active in the treatment of urban poverty and decline – has pursued regeneration policies aimed at the consolidation and promotion of “competitive” residential neighbourhoods through new housing construction, real-estate valorization programs, community building and collaborative planning activities (Coppola, 2010).

5However, this model has progressively revealed its congenital limits: both neo-liberal urban regeneration plans and community development schemes have never succeeded in reversing the historical decline of these cities, somehow contributing to the persistence of socio-spatial polarization patterns within urban cores and between them and their metropolitan areas. Recently, a discourse more based on the acceptance of decline as a structural condition of these cities has emerged within academic, policy-making and community development circles looking for a new paradigm of urban development. Among the themes of this emerging narrative are the acceptance of the definitive loss of the urban civilization created in the era of Fordism industrialism, the acknowledgment of a long-term scenario of shrinkage and slow growth for urban cores and metropolitan regions in the Rustbelt and the idea of “right-sizing” the physical and institutional footprint of cities to these new realities through the implementation of a vast array of innovative policy and planning tools (Coppola, 2012; Hollander et al., 2009; Shilling and Logan, 2008). The city of Cleveland, Ohio, has been in recent years at the forefronts of this conversation, becoming one of the major sites for the development and the experimentation of related innovative practice and policies. I argue that some of these policies may represent a shift from previous neoliberal urban development policies.

1. A city in decline in search of growth

6The city of Cleveland is among the ones belonging to what we have defined as the hard-core of urban shrinkage. It has lost over 50% of its population since its demographic peak – 914 808 inhabitants – reached in the 1950 while the overall regional demographic dynamic has stayed very weak in recent decades. Cuyahoga County, that occupies an area comprising the city and much of the metropolitan area, has followed in recent decades a pattern of “sprawl without growth”, with an estimated surplus of 70,000 residential units in excess of actual households and residents that have been declining since the 1980s (Keating, 2013).

7Cleveland’s trajectory of ascent and decline is similar to the one of many other Rustbelt shrinking cities. During the early 20th century, the city rose to prominence as a centre of industry, especially in steal manufacturing, thank to it strategic location on the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie. Key industries included primary metals, fabricated metals, nonelectrical machinery, and transportation equipment (Cowell, 2013). In the 1970s, the city and its metropolitan region began to experience the effects of economic decline through the spread of heavy losses of manufacturing jobs and plants’ restructuring. The incidence of manufacturing jobs on total employment in the metropolitan region plunged from 27% circa in 1979 to 10% in 2009 (Cowell, 2013). Over decades, the steep decline in manufacturing jobs has been offset by a rise in service jobs: like many other metropolitan areas across the Rustbelt, Cleveland has transitioned to a new labour market dominated by the growth of low-quality jobs in the service sector and characterized by a phenomena of spatial and skills’ mismatch affecting the weakest sections of the workforce, and in particular the African-American community (see Wilson, 1987).

8Well before the peak of the deindustrialization processes, urban decline became a matter of concern starting with the 1950s. At that time, policies addressed first the issue of downtown decline through urban renewal programs that were deemed to a failure (Jenkins, 2001). A first backlash against downtown-centred urban policies occurred in the mid-1970s with the election of a short-lived populist administration working on an agenda focussing on neighborhoods’ needs and embracing the progressive principles of so called “equity planning” (Krumholz, 1982). In the 1980s, Cleveland faced a deepening process of decline with the spread of demographic loss and housing vacancy, a fall in real estate values, persistent white flight and concentrated poverty, a structural crisis of the municipal finance and a decline in services’ quality (Poh Miller and Wheeler, 2009). In this context, right after the end of the populist parenthesis and with the city on the edge of bankruptcy, a new administration led by Mayor George Voinovich took the lead of a growth-oriented coalition composed by business leaders and major philanthropic institutions (Hill, 1997). Following a typical pattern across the Rustbelt (see Coppola, 2012), this coalition had focused on the enhancement of the city’s competitive position aiming at making Greater Cleveland as a prominent business and professional centre between New York and Chicago (Hill, 1997). In order to achieve this goal, the coalition had promoted downtown revitalization programs mobilizing a new “urban vision” made of modern corporate headquarters, hotels, recreational facilities and touristic attraction. In the 1980s, the long-time neglected city waterfront became the privileged locus of this vision with the construction of flagship projects such as the Rock and Roll of Fame and the Nasa Center. Many of the initiatives promoted during the Voinovich tenure (1979-1988) had relied on consistent public subsidies – often in the form of federal grants – and on tax breaks aimed at “levelling the ground” of the competitive disadvantage characterizing declining cities. Thanks to the overall market success of these programs, Cleveland has been labelled the “comeback city” (Poh Miller and Wheeler, 2009) coming to represent like Baltimore (Coppola, 2010) a case of supposed “urban renaissance” amidst the debris of the Rust Belt.

9The deployment of this pro-growth agenda came in hand with the deployment of a new neighbourhood strategy based on the transformation and repurposing of former grassroots community organizations and their inclusion in a new local governance system (McQuarry, 2013). From this point of view, Cleveland has become a privileged site of the already mentioned “double-faced” local development model based on the introduction of innovative neoliberal governance tools and devices both in the areas of downtown revitalization and of neighbourhood development (Coppola, 2010). From the late 1970s, formerly grassroots community organization have professionalized following the new “community development industry” model sponsored and designed by large philanthropic institutions and government institutions (McQuarry, 2013; Coppola, 2010). Community Development Corporations (CDCs) became key actors in urban governance coming to represent the “ghettos’ shadow government” (De Filippis, 2004) providing housing, economic development initiatives, social services and more broadly neighbourhood development strategies in declining and impoverished urban areas. Over the years, the CDCs’ strategy shifted from a holistic approach towards neighbourhood development to one privileging physical development and housing production. In this context, a growing emphasis has been put on the development of urban markets from the 2000’s as the main vehicle to contain decline and shrinkage. By investing in the creation of so-called “regionally competitive neighbourhoods of choice”, CDCs have been at the forefront of the effort to attract middle-class residents and investors back to the city and therefore effectively compete with suburban locations. The number of new housing units and the long-term increase in real estate values has been assumed as the key indicators of success for community development projects (McQuarry, 2013), while growing attention has been devoted to the expansion of homeownership in city neighborhoods. Accordingly, market-rate housing production has come to occupy an increasingly large share of the overall CDCs’ housing output. This new strategy has also entailed a shift from a “need-based” community development model to a so-called “opportunity-based” model based on the “strategic investment” in neighborhoods presenting some “market potential”. A new “strategic investment initiative” promoted by the most important intermediary organization – Neighborhood Progress Inc. – and the city administration aims at concentrating available resources on neighborhoods with a recognized market potential.

2. The double-dip decline: Cleveland and the foreclosures crisis

10The outcome of long-standing forces of decline and uneven policy responses is a city made of “islands of renewal in a sea of decay”. Among the development pockets are the revitalized downtown, the Flats area located long the Cuyahoga River, the University Circle area where major “anchor institutions” – such as universities and hospitals – are headquartered and a handful of neighborhoods – such as the Trenton and Detroit Shore communities – that have been involved in CDCs revitalization strategies. Areas of decline are mostly but not exclusively concentrated in the East Side of the city and right south of Downtown as in the case of the infamous “Forgotten Triangle”. This uneven urban geography is deeply related to highly fragmented urban governance characterized by the peculiar role of localized private and not for profit urban actors engaged in the development, management and market promotion of their respective locations. Overall, in recent years, both in the downtown and neighbourhoods variations, the urban policy agenda – and the culture of the main actors involved in their ideation and implementation – has been structured around the guiding principle of growth. Demographic and economic decline experienced by the city has been perceived of course as a serious concern but it has not been interpreted as a structural condition that the city could not overcome by its own means.

11The foreclosures crisis – that is at the roots of a new phase of violent decline erupted in the 2000s – has violently undermined this conception. The spread of predatory lending has played a major role in creating the conditions of this new “shrinkage wave” that has impacted the city before the actual collapse of the US housing market in 2008. Since the mid- 2000s, Cleveland has become the poster-child of the spread of sub-prime lending in the US real estate market and of the subsequent foreclosure crisis. In the late 1990s already, foreclosure rate increased significantly, alarming community activists and city officials (Keating, 2013). In Cuyaoga County, residential loans’ foreclosures for failure to pay taxes or to make mortgage payments more than quadrupled between 1995 and 2007 (Keating, 2013) while, at the end of the 2000s, high-cost sub-prime loans were responsible for 84% of all foreclosures (Coulton et al, 2012).

12In Cleveland as in other affected cities, African-Americans, minority and low-income neighborhoods have been disproportionally hit by subprime lending and subsequently by foreclosures (Coulton et al., 2012). The combined effects of place-based and race-based targeting of predatory loans – and later of foreclosures – made Cleveland East Side the epicentre of the crisis (Aalbers, 2013). Slavic Village, once a neighborhood on the rebound, have now more foreclosures per capita than any other urban neighborhood in the country (Keating, 2013), and could be considered as the “ground zero” of the foreclosures crisis (Lind, 2008). As a result the collapse of the real estate market, housing prices have fallen dramatically. In 2005 the median sales price of a house was around $ 100,000 but in early 2007 it was just $ 62,000, then one year later $ 15,500, a decrease of 75% in only one year (Mallach, 2009). Houses in Cleveland’s East Side were selling for an average of 13% of their previously estimated market value while nearly 80% of the foreclosed properties sold for less than $ 10,000 in 2008 and 2009, up from only 4% in 2004 (Coulton et al., 2012).

13Along with the soaring number of foreclosures, the number of vacant, abandoned housing units also rose. In the 2000 Census, circa 25.000 (11.7% of the total) housing units in Cleveland were counted as vacant, this number rose to 40.000 by 2010 (19.3%) (Lind and Keating, 2012). Almost half of these were deemed nuisance properties, requiring in most cases to be eventually demolished. In addition, the city of Cleveland’s land bank, created in the 1970s, had 12,000 vacant parcels in early 2013 (Keating, 2013).The aftermaths of the foreclosure crisis posed new problems in the management of vacant properties such the spectacular increase in REOs (Real Estate Owned) – banks’ and lenders’ owned foreclosed properties – from 1499 in 2004 to over 10.000 in 2008 (Coulton et al., 2012). REOs legal owners largely fail to maintain and preserve those low-value foreclosed homes that have not been sold on a sheriff sale. Almost all the houses that are sold at sales are acquired by out-of-state corporations and buyers that have no knowledge of the neighbourhood. The new owners often enact speculative practices such as “flipping”, the process of purchasing low-value property, inflating their value, and quickly selling often on-line (Keating, 2013) or leave their properties to decay and fall in tax foreclosure (Coulton et al, 2012). All these phenomena put additional pressure on already distressed and destabilized neighborhoods and housing markets.

14Since the starting of the foreclosures crisis, the city has expanded demolition programs aimed at eliminating what is considered as “surplus housing”. Between 2006 and 2012, the city demolished 6,100 nuisance properties at a cost of $ 44 million. In the same years, the demographic decline of the city and its suburban counties accelerated. By 2010, the city population had returned approximately to the population it had around 1900, 396.000 inhabitants, a 17% drop from the 478.000 inhabitants of the 2000 Census (Keating, 2013).

3. A policy shift?

15In this context of enduring crisis, the city of Cleveland is experimenting new policies in the fields of land management, vacant land reuse and local development. These policies – that represent the core of what we hypothesize to be a proper policy shift – are threefold: assembling urban land, repurposing the land through innovative uses, and localizing production and consumption

3.1. Assembling the urban land

16As a result of these successive “shrinkage waves”, the acquisition and management of large inventories of vacant land and structures has become a key policy issue in the city. Since 1976, the city of Cleveland operates a land bank aimed at acquiring vacant land and making it available to development projects. With the foreclosures crisis, the city has supported a countywide solution with the foundation of the Cuyahoga County Land Re-utilization Corporation, which is in operation since 2009. Its mission is to “strategically acquire properties, return them to productive use, reduce blight, increase property values, support community goals, and improve the quality of life for county residents” (Cuyahoga Land Bank, 2009). Its powers, that are significantly larger if compared to the ones of the City Land Bank, include the acquisition, management and transfer of real estate property and land, the implementation of code enforcement and nuisance abatement including demolition, the purchase of delinquent property tax lien certificates and the issue of bonds, the involvement in financial activities coherent with the goals of the agency (Lind and Keating, 2012). Since its foundation, the agency has been aggressively acquiring REOs and other vacant properties, renovating vacant houses to make them available on the market again and implementing large demolition programs.

17Recently, in the search of better ways to fight speculative practices, federal institutions have granted the Land Bank the right to evaluate foreclosed properties before they are put back on the market though public auctions while some major banks have agreed to give the Land Bank their foreclosed and blighted property sustaining at least a portion of the demolition costs (Keating, 2013). The decision to proceed to demolition is based on the evaluation of structural conditions, on the market potential of the area and on the eventual availability of CDCs willing to acquire the properties and renovate them for residential use. Through specific programs, involving CDCs and other not for profit organizations, the land bank has in fact saved approximately 500 housing units involved in the foreclosures crisis and made them available through rent-to-own programs and other tools (Keating, 2013).

18Overall, during its first three years of operation, the Land Bank has acquired about 1700 properties and demolished about 1000 of them (Keating, 2013). Once vacated, the land is transferred to the city land bank – that now owns over 12.000 parcels – which makes it available to new uses, often for community projects such as urban gardens and farms and ecological remediation areas (see following section). The agency secures the funding for its operations through different channels ranging from federal government grants – in particular from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) – to funding provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and by the issue of its own bonds sale. However, its primary and steadiest source of funding comes from interests and penalties on unpaid or delinquent property taxes and assessments collected by the Cuyahoga County Auditor (Keating, 2012).

3.2. Repurposing the land through innovative uses

19The reuse of the vacant land has been another traditional concern for US shrinking city that has grown in urgency since the foreclosures crisis. In 2007, the City of Cleveland passed a new comprehensive plan – the Connecting Cleveland 2020 Citywide Plan – which is based on the acknowledgment of the realities of structural shrinkage. In this context, new productive uses of the land – and more specifically urban agriculture – are seen as key in repurposing vacant lots, promoting neighbourhood quality of life and access to fresh food in the city. In furtherance of this particular goal, the city council passed a “Healthy Cleveland Ordinance” which includes the goal of ensuring the existence of a community garden within walking distance for every city resident in 2020.

20In coherence with the new comprehensive plan, an array of reforms in zoning regulations have aimed in recent years at making agricultural uses legitimate and stable (La Croix, 2010). A key actor in these changes has been the Cleveland-Cuyahoga Food Policy Coalition, a network of organizations active in the field of food justice and urban agriculture founded in 2007. The city council has passed three major ordinances introducing the “urban garden districts” (i.e. areas in which urban agriculture is the only admitted use) allowing residents to raise small livestock – through the so called “chicken and bees” zoning ordinance – and permitting agriculture uses in residential districts. The city is also active in the promotion and support of new urban agriculture projects through different programs – administrated both by the Department of Community Development and the Department of Economic Development – aimed at offering financial and technical support to grassroots efforts. Thanks also to these policy changes, the city of Cleveland has recently experienced a very significant expansion of the land involved in agricultural production with some of the projects achieving a relevant size and scope (Schuering, 2011).

21More precisely, the largest endeavour in the field of vacant land reuse strategies has been the “Reimagining a More Sustainable Cleveland” initiative that intends to build “a community stewardship movement in Cleveland by providing ideas and resources to residents to repurpose vacant land” (Richtell, 2012). The programme is the outcome of a study of vacant-land reuse strategies promoted by a partnership between the city administration, a local Community Development Intermediary named Neighborhood Progress and the Urban Design Center at Kent State University. Building on this study, the city’s Planning Department developed a land-use decision matrix for evaluating appropriate reuses of vacant land in the light of economic variables, sustainability goals, and local quality-of-life factors. The proposed uses fall in three broad categories: 1) holding strategies implementing low-cost and temporary greening treatments of vacant areas that are still suitable for development; 2) green infrastructure strategies implementing uses of vacant land aimed at the restoration of natural systems such as wetlands and waterways and at the sustainable treatment of urban metabolism elements such as in the case of run-off waters; 3) productive landscapes strategies implementing uses aimed at the extraction of an economic return from vacant sites through projects in the fields of food production and energy generation (Schwartz, 2012). An Idea Book for Vacant Land Strategies was developed by the partnership with the provision of designs, budgets, resources and guidance to possible grassroots projects. Following a pilot programme funded by Neighborhood Progress, the City Administration has granted 500.000 $ of Neighborhood Stabilization Program’s funds to a new round of projects ranging from urban agriculture to side-yard expansion, from water management to phytoremediation of polluted sites (Reichtell, 2012). After this period of experimentation, the initiative has expanded, also thanks to the funds made available by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – through the “Neighborhood Stabilization Programme” – and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Considering these new rounds of funding, the Reimagining Cleveland Initiative has promoted over 120 projects since its injection, ranging from agricultural sites, side-yard expansions and ecological restoration programs promoted by grassroots and informal groups, Community Development Corporations and individuals.

22The goal of promoting ecological restoration and a sustainable urban metabolism has recently attracted increasing attention, leading to projects focusing in particular on a more sustainable management of the urban waters’ cycle (Schwartz, 2012). The land repurposed by these projects has been made available in most cases by the City of Cleveland Land Bank – that in many cases received it from the County Land Bank – and leased for symbolical sums to grassroots groups and CDCs while, in the case of side yard expansion, the land has been instead sold – always for very low prices – to individual homeowners.

3.3. Localizing production and consumption

23In the context of US shrinking cities, economic development plans have traditionally been embedded in specific urban visions. As in other Rustbelt cities, the philanthropic sector has played a central role in the setting up of development agendas and coalitions that have been mostly characterized by mainstream and pro-market approaches. The largest Cleveland’s philanthropic institution – the highly influential Cleveland Foundation – has recently promoted a development project that seems to represent a significant depart from previous approaches, the Evergreen Cooperative Initiative. In 2007, the Cleveland Foundations asked the Democratic Collaborative – a research institution of progressive orientation located in Maryland – to assist key stake-holders in the envisioning of innovative strategies in the field of economic and community development. The outcome of that work has been a “three-legged stool strategy” based on 1) the leveraging of the purchasing needs of anchor institutions, 2) the development of a network of community-based and worker-owned cooperatives geared towards meeting those procurement needs and 3) and the exploitation of strategic opportunities emerging in the green economy space, given the sustainability commitments of the educational and medical institutions of Cleveland’s University circle, i.e. the anchor institutions (2011). With the support of the Cleveland foundation, some of these “anchor institutions” located in the “University Circle” area and the city administration have therefore partnered to promote the initiative. Since its injection, the project has led to the creation of three different cooperatives: the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry that offers laundry services to a wide range of local institutions starting with University Circle anchors, the Ohio Solar Cooperative that leases, installs and maintains photovoltaic arrays on institutional, government and commercial buildings and the Green City Growers Cooperative that runs a four acre greenhouse with a production capacity of four million heads of lettuce and 300.000 pounds of herbs year-round though hydroponic agriculture. All these productions put great emphasis on environmental sustainability moving from the basic idea of promoting a more sustainable use of resources through the reduction of energy and water consumption – a goal that is evident in the laundry project –, the development of alternative systems of energy production – as in the case of the Solar Cooperative – and to re-localize cycles of production and consumption, as in the case of the agricultural project that will substitute produce imports from California and Hawaii with local productions.

24Emphasis is also put on the alternative forms of governance that characterizes these businesses and on their strong links to communities and local institutions. The cooperatives are in fact designed to be owned and managed by workers who must be residents of University Circle’s surrounding communities. After a probationary period, workers are invited to become members of the coop joining a corporate governance based on the rule of “one member-one vote” with some influence granted to other Evergreen partners and representatives of local institutions. The final state of the project should include the creation of an umbrella organization grouping all cooperatives and some subsidiary organizations such as a land trust aimed at ensuring “the availability of strategically located property both for future business expansion and to maintain affordable housing and protect against gentrification” (Evergreen Cooperatives Initiatives, 2012). In the start-up phase, the three cooperatives have relied on foundation grants and on government guaranteed credit and they now employ over sixty residents of University Circle’s surrounding communities.

Conclusion – Neoliberal orthodoxy or post-neoliberal experiment?

25Shrinking cities in the US represent the “ground zero” of long-standing, radicalized and government propelled processes of uneven development across the global, national and metropolitan spaces. Their conditions of decline and marginalisation have made them the breeding ground for successive waves of neoliberal urban policy and, at the same time, the site of visions and practices of alternative urbanism. A somehow quiet and inexplicit dialectic among these two terms has developed over the decades in these cities, and more precisely between the radicalization of neoliberal policy - aimed at taming, through increased competitiveness, the harsh “market” realities that have led them to the current condition - on one side and the radicalization of alternative practices that have grown in the shadow of mainstream policy on the other side. It is within this troubled and contested space – shaped by the structural forces fuelling uneven development - that “shrinkage urbanism” is actually made.

26While much has been written regarding the first term of this dialectic, not enough attention has been devoted to the second term, meaning the role that shrinking cities are playing as incubators of urban policies that often descend from the “alternative” practices we just mentioned. The dystopian context of shrinking cities – characterized by the collapse of mainstream institutions and regulations both in the state and market realms – has been a living laboratory for the formation of practices that are alternative to both Keynesian and neoliberal urban materialities and sociabilities. In many shrinking cities, these very practices and related actors are now part of a conversation regarding the establishment of a new planning consensus around the ideas of “smart-shrinkage” and “right-sizing” as the only sustainable ways to tame the forces of shrinkage and achieve some form of stability in the long-term. Even if it has matured in the narrow political space of a highly localist understanding of the problems these cities face largely ignoring structural factors, this new consensus relies on the recognition of the “zero-sum” character of much neo-liberal inter-urban competition and on the need to avoid a naïve search for growth at all costs as proposed by “entrepreneurial urbanism” development models.

27From this point of view, as a form of “conscious managerialism” (Hackworth, 2012), the Cleveland land-banking experience represents a departure from orthodox free-market understandings of the role of the land in urban settings. This emerging government technology does not represent in any way the operationalization of a long-term project aimed at the collectivization of the urban land: from many points of view, the land bank – focusing on the preservation of still “valuable assets” from an even deeper devaluation - pursues goals that are coherent with the market rhetoric that has informed urban policy in Rustbelt cities over the last decades (Aalbers, 2012). However, the landbanking program moves from the recognition that – after decades of shrinkage – just a portion of the land that is comprised within the city territory can be remobilized in the “urban market” in a timely and traditional manner. In this context, this institution is pivotal in the de facto – even if probably temporary – de-commodification of some of the vacant land that is now available in the city, in the containment of highly predatory market practices focusing on distressed assets, in the actual implementation of urban policies that accept a more realistic horizon of no-growth and, finally, in the reutilization of the land for the implementation of those emerging urban uses of ecological remediation, recreation and food production that have come to be among the practices that are most visibly changing the urban policy agenda of Rustbelt cities. The ways through which the surplus land is transferred to new users also represent a departure from a purely private-oriented regime towards a “diversity of property rights regimes” (Colding and Barthel, 2013): of course, in many cases the land is sold to private owners who pay for its perceived – extremely low – market value, but in other cases the land can be granted to individuals, grassroots groups and philanthropic organizations through bailment contracts or for symbolical sums.

28In this context, practices mobilized by the Reimagining Cleveland Initiative and other programs are examples of the transformative potential embedded in this new urban landscape (Harvey, 2000); a transformative potential that is connected to the powerful rediscovery of the physicality of cities (Batty and Marshall, 2009). In Cleveland, as in other Rustbelt cities, the comeback of policy approaches addressing the issue of urban morphology and form is surely motivated by arguments of market-value preservation and government austerity – coherently with more traditional “triage” approaches, the need to change the city foot-print in order to retain and develop the residual exchange-value embedded in its housing stock and to cut services and government expenditures – but is also related to a broad field of experimental practices and policies that organized around radically different narratives. In this field, acceptation of urban shrinkage and incremental intervention into this process – as in the model suggested by the Reimagining Cleveland Initiative – are called upon as an opportunity to establish innovative, sustainable and resilient spatial and more specifically urban morphologies of socio-ecological systems.

29Lastly, the cultural turn in the approach of urban development experienced by philanthropic institutions in Cleveland and witnessed by the Evergreen Cooperative experiment is related to the rediscovery of the “local” as a suitable policy framework for the treatment of the shrinkage phenomenology. Again, this kind of initiatives is justified by the “rational” goal of anchor institutions to protect their assets from the spread of decline and disinvestment, but it is particularly significant that this traditional goal is being reframed and retooled through the deployment of those narratives of “intentional localisation” – mobilizing practices such as workers-run and owned cooperatives, communal gardens and restaurants, local power generation organizations – that are currently the object of increasing research attention (North, 2010). Even if they recall pre-neoliberal endogenous growth projects briefly experimented by transitioning industrial locations in the 1970s before the spread of neoliberal models (Brenner, 2004), these new forms of localism differ from them in the idea that local economies have to be deeply embedded in local eco-systems, an idea that draws a new legitimacy from the global climate and environmental crisis with the approaching of “peak oil” (see Hopkins, 2008). From this point of view, practices promoting ecological remediation for urban vacant sites suggest an explicitly biocentric quality of these forms of localism that focuses on the opportunity offered by shrinkage of partially reversing alteration and disruption of local ecosystems caused by industrialization and urbanization. On the same line, the rezoning ordinances that have legalized untraditional uses represent a stark point of departure of a century-long tradition of sanitization and artificialization of the urban space.

30These evolutions corroborate the hypothesis of a shift in the overall approach to urban planning and policy in the city of Cleveland. However, it needs to be stressed how these areas of change are developing in a context in which entrenched neo-liberal policies continue to operate. As an example, while favouring cooperative urban agriculture projects the City of Cleveland is still investing in the attraction of Casinos as a source of jobs and revenue. In this condition of policy pluralism, major limitation to the hypothesis of a shift can be identified in the actual quantitative relevance of these “alternative” policies and practices, in their dependence on the philanthropic sector and in their still undecided relationship to traditional neoliberal goals. Shrinkage urbanism is a contentious space that is open to very different outcomes, a space whose transformative potentials are somehow specific to the conditions of urban shrinkage itself.

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Alessandro Coppola, « A Cleveland model?  », Métropoles [En ligne], 15 | 2014, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2014, consulté le 22 août 2017. URL : http://metropoles.revues.org/4950

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Alessandro Coppola

Lecturer
Department of Architecture and Urban Studies
Politecnico di Milano
alessandro.coppola@polimi.it

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