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Dr. Stephanie Ryberg-Webster writes new book on historic preservation amid urban decline in Cleveland

Dr. Stephanie Ryberg-Webster, Associate Professor of Urban Studies in the Levin College of Public Affairs and Education writes “Preserving the Vanishing City: Historic Preservation amid Urban Decline in Cleveland, Ohio

Dr. Ryberg-Webster's research 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. 

Her book 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. 

According to 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) “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.” 

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