Spaces of Struggle 1: Dismantling the Urban Decline Machine

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups:
Poster #:
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM (Eastern Standard Time)
Room: Grand Couteau, Sheraton, 5th Floor
Organizers: Sarah Gelbard, Carla Kayanan, Michael Koscielniak
Chairs: Carla Kayanan


Urban decline is not natural. Urban decline is not the inverse of growth. Decline is a mode of production and a key aspect of urbanization (Akers 2013). Borrowing the parlance of Logan & Molotch (1987), the organizers of this paper session approach capitalist urbanization as a decline machine – a mode of producing and organizing the urban. We suggest that real estate and speculative property interests at a variety of scales coordinate with institutions to produce decline for the sake of profit and power. Urban scholars have argued that decline must be understood on its own terms (Dewar & Thomas 2012). However, voices within professional planning and urbanism circles typically treat decline as an inevitable historical outcome, a case of bad luck, or simply an unfortunate imbalance of capital. Recently, mainstream urban scholars and pop urbanist “thought-leaders” have each turned attention to the plethora of social challenges eventuated by inner-city decline and shrinking populations (Florida 2017). These professional and academic dialogues afford prominence to formal agendas optimizing shrinkage, justifying gentrification, normalizing demolition, and rationalizing targeted investment (Fernandez Campbell 2016).

Drawing on those discussions, local, state and national policies preserve white supremacy and capitalism as the points of departure for housing, education, employment and redevelopment. Reforms and solutions proposed by growth-focused formal actors amount to a race-blind, technical distribution of resources that camouflage embedded and historical power dynamics (Safransky 2014). Powerful interests working at the state/market nexus depoliticize the routine obscenities of the growth ideology (Lord & Price 1992). At the level of partisan politics, Democrats embrace public policies that aim to harmonize austerity against the vulnerable with the naturalized needs of white, middle-class livability (Levine 1987). In state legislatures across the United States, Republicans venerate and instantiate market logics designed to reinforce private property and debilitate egalitarian agendas (Hackworth & Nowakowski 2015) . Regardless of the discipline or doctrine, the intrication of racism, capitalism, and decline often goes unchallenged by those proposing and overseeing urban revitalization campaigns.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Margaret Ellis-Young*, University of Waterloo, Action for Whom? Placing Community-Based Organizations’ Roles Within Gentrification Processes in Hamilton, Ontario 20 8:00 AM
Presenter Lisa Berglund*, University of California - Los Angeles, The Shrinking City as a Growth Machine: Redevelopment in Detroit's Downtown Core 20 8:20 AM
Presenter Gavin Parker*, University of Reading, UK, Building from advocacy: the experience of Planning Aid and after. 20 8:40 AM
Presenter Craig Lyons*, University of Wollongong, Chris Gibson, University of Wollongong, Manufacturing decline: the production of urban decline narratives in boom cities 20 9:00 AM
Discussant Michael Koscielniak University of Michigan 20 9:20 AM

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