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Title:From subprime loans to unwanted greenspace: An urban political ecology of economic crisis in Cleveland, Ohio
Author(s):Breyer, Betsy
Director of Research:Birkenholtz, Trevor; Cutts, Bethany
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Birkenholtz, Trevor
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Cidell, Julie; Wilson, David
Department / Program:Geography & Geographic InfoSci
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):urban political ecology
urban greenspace
mixed-methods research
remote sensing
land vacancy
Abstract:This dissertation examines tension between the ecology and political economy of land vacancy in former industrial hubs of the US Rust Belt. Following the 2007-2009 economic crisis, Rust Belt cities undertook sweeping demolition campaigns and have sought to repurpose the resulting vacant land for ecosystem services. Yet, calls to ‘green the Rust Belt’ through vacant land re-use tend to foreground its biophysical aspects along with superficial nods to sustainability and environmental justice, rarely engaging with how political economy influences the contemporary geography of land vacancy. This dissertation asks: what does it mean to cast the material effects of economic crisis in ecological terms, and how does that move reshape the way urban decline is understood and managed today? Drawing on evidence from Cleveland, Ohio, I investigate how processes of land clearance and re-use have brought together urban ecology, racial inequality, and property markets to direct the pivot from post-crisis land devaluation towards future land revalorization and reinvestment. First, I review of the ecology of shrinking cities literature, which provides intellectual scaffolding for vacant land re-use practices today. I critique the neo-Malthusian overtones of this literature and argue for engaging the ecology in urban political ecology as a remedy. My intervention enacts this engagement by combining remote sensing analysis with a qualitative case study informed by urban political ecology. I demonstrate that race and property, not population, ‘drives’ post-crisis revegetation, particularly where high foreclosure rates fall in and near the historically redlined area. A case study of a contentious vacant land re-use project argues that White desires dominate the way vacant land is enrolled into ecological stewardship within a broader land holding strategy that stakes a land claim in anticipation of future revalorization. Triangulating in the space between the ‘greening of the redlined area’ and the ‘whitening of greened space’, I argue that the same mechanisms of colorblind neoliberal racism that transformed racial exclusion into predatory inclusion in subprime loans prior to the crisis is, today, exploiting environmental justice rhetoric to transform historical racial exclusion into predatory inclusion in environmental amenities.
Issue Date:2019-07-10
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 Betsy Breyer
Date Available in IDEALS:2019-11-26
Date Deposited:2019-08

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