Historic Preservation amid Urban Decline in Cleveland, OhioStephanie Ryberg-Webster
Preserving the Vanishing City considers the unique challenges, conditions, and opportunities facing Cleveland’s historic preservation community during the 1970s and 1980s. While pro-preservationists argued for the economic and revitalization benefits stemming from saving and repurposing older buildings, population loss and economic contraction prompted decades of deterioration, underinvestment, vacancy, and abandonment.
Stephanie Ryberg-Webster uncovers the motivations, strategies, and constraints driving Cleveland’s historic preservation sector, led by the public-sector Cleveland Landmarks Commission, nonprofit Cleveland Restoration Society, and a cadre of advocates. She sheds light on the ways in which preservationists confronted severe, escalating, and sustained urban decline, which plagued Cleveland, a prototypical rust-belt industrial city.
Preserving the Vanishing City chronicles the rise of the historic preservation profession in Cleveland and provides six case studies about targeted projects and neighborhood efforts, including industrial heritage, housing preservation and restoration, commercial district revitalization, securing local historic district designations, as well as grassroots organizing, coalition building, and partnerships. Ryberg-Webster also addresses the complexities of historic preservation within the context of rapid racial change in Cleveland’s neighborhoods.
A comprehensive history of preservation within the context of one city’s urban decline, Preserving the Vanishing City recounts the successes, failures, and creative strategies employed to save Cleveland’s built environment.
“Ryberg-Webster offers a cogent examination of Cleveland’s historic preservation movement within the context of the city’s decline in both population and economic power. Preserving the Vanishing City chronicles the way preservationists, developers, planners, and residents balanced community priorities and determined what to save. Activists leveraged strategic coalitions, enacted policy changes, and designed innovative programs to preserve the places that tell the city’s story. Their struggles and successes, as recounted by the author, can inform the tactics and priorities of today’s preservationists—especially those working in legacy cities.”
—Sara C. Bronin, Professor in the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning at Cornell University, and coauthor of Historic Preservation Law
“Preserving the Vanishing City offers fresh strategies for shrinking cities by focusing on what preservation contributed to Cleveland’s revitalization efforts since the 1970s. Most preservation research has emphasized the profession’s origin cities, like New Orleans, Charleston, Boston, and Philadelphia, or centered cities facing overdevelopment and gentrification. More typical places like Cleveland have what Ryberg-Webster calls a ‘staggering oversupply of built things’ and a different set of challenges. Twentieth-century Cleveland led the nation in many trends, from 1930s public housing to 1960s community development. This history of preservation in cities experiencing deindustrialization and depopulation will be enormously useful to policy stakeholders and historians.”
—Alison Isenberg, author of Designing San Francisco: Art, Land, and Urban Renewal in the City by the Bay
“Ryberg-Webster breaks new ground, offering a rare, fine-grained analysis of preservation practices that allows readers to appreciate how enduring policies and approaches emerged at the intersection of professional paradigms, political imperatives, and grassroots activism. She suggests a new way of envisioning historic preservation as something more versatile than that which is pursued by preservation professionals and more complicated than its portrayal in much scholarly literature as an agent of gentrification. Preserving the Vanishing City offers both a sober analysis of preservation’s limitations as well as its potential for revitalizing cities.”
—Andrew Hurley, Professor of History at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, and author of Beyond Preservation: Using Public History to Revitalize Inner Cities (Temple)