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Derelict Paradise

Homelessness and Urban Development in Cleveland, Ohio

Daniel Kerr

Publication Year: 2011

Seeking answers to the question, "Who benefits from homelessness?" this book takes the reader on a sweeping tour of Cleveland's history from the late nineteenth-century through the early twenty-first. Daniel Kerr shows that homelessness has deep roots in the shifting ground of urban labor markets, social policy, downtown development, the criminal justice system, and corporate power. Rather than being attributable to the illnesses and inadequacies of the unhoused themselves, it is a product of both structural and political dynamics shaping the city. Kerr locates the origins of today's shelter system in the era that followed the massive railroad rebellions of 1877. From that period through the Great Depression, business and political leaders sought to transform downtown Cleveland to their own advantage. As they focused on bringing business travelers and tourists to the city and beckoned upper-income residents to return to its center, they demolished two downtown working-class neighborhoods and institutionalized a shelter system to contain and control the unhoused and unemployed. The precedents from this period informed the strategies of the post–World War II urban renewal era as the "new urbanism" of the late twentieth century. The efforts of the city's elites have not gone uncontested. Kerr documents a rich history of opposition by people at the margins of whose organized resistance and everyday survival strategies have undermined the grand plans crafted by the powerful and transformed the institutions designed to constrain the lives of the homeless.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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Title Page

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p. iii

Copyright Page

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p. iv

Table of Contents

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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

This project began to take shape when I returned to my hometown, Cleveland, in the fall of 1995 and started a free weekly picnic on Public Square. Laura DuMond Kerr, Geoff Bryce, and María Lugones helped me formulate the early stages of my oral history project. Steve and Margot Kerr’s assistance allowed me to get the research off the ground. I am also indebted to...

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pp. 1-12

In 1945, fourteen-year-old Ralph Pack joined the white migration north from Appalachia, leaving West Virginia with his family and moving to Cleveland. When he was seventeen, he went to work at Monarch Aluminum making pots and pans. The place taught him a fundamental lesson: “The majority of the factory jobs, take my word for it, you become part of the machinery. And I always hated that.” To...

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Chapter 1: Employment Sharks and Spying Organizations

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pp. 13-38

On July 22, 1877, the fourth day in a massive railroad strike that swept across the country, the Cleveland Daily Herald ran the headline “Anarchy: The Reign of the Mob Continues in Pittsburgh.” The night before, after the Philadelphia Militia killed several women and children in Pittsburgh, a crowd pelted soldiers with stones as they tried to...

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Chapter 2: A City with a Smile

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pp. 39-70

In 1932 Cleveland’s city manager, Daniel Morgan, proclaimed, “Cleveland is a city with a smile. It takes hard knocks with a smile and does not falter.” Not solely interested in boosting morale, he thought of a smile as a sign of a welcoming city — a place that tourists might like to visit. With the city spiraling further into the industrial depression, local business leaders and public officials hoped that they...

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Chapter 3: The Nation’s Housing Laboratory

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pp. 71-104

In the midst of an economic collapse, the city of Cleveland paid for an advertisement in 1931 to remind residents that “appearances are important.” The advertisement continued, “You have enough to worry about in the depression without looking at and thinking about property that is suffering from lack of beauty as well as protection that paint gives. Cheer yourself with some color.” If the fresh...

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Chapter 4: Businessmen Gone Berserk

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pp. 105-127

The late thirties and early forties offered a unique period of time in which city planners, public officials, and business leaders reflected on and redrew the blueprints for the future of “their” city. With the first public housing projects behind them and the economy showing signs of recovery, the period provided an opportunity to reflect on the shape that development would take in the coming years. Planners...

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Chapter 5: The Urban Renewal Doldrums

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pp. 128-163

For a brief moment, urban planners across the country pointed to Cleveland as a national urban renewal success story. This recognition did not come easily. The first phase of slum clearance policies had come to a halt with the onset of World War II. Following the war, the housing crisis and the power of private developers effectively precluded any efforts to restart these programs. The Title I program of...

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Chapter 6: A Bombing Run

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pp. 164-199

As the smoke cleared from the Hough Rebellion, Cleveland’s postwar urban renewal policies took the brunt of the blame. On the floor of the House of Representatives, Congressman William Widnall of New Jersey declared, “The Cleveland situation is an ugly reminder of what happens when commercial renewal is pushed at the expense of low and moderate-priced housing.” He continued: “The housing...

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Chapter 7: Open Penitentiaries

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pp. 200-243

In the early 1980s, a public spectacle emerged in downtown Cleveland — people sleeping in doorways, sidewalks, and public parks. Few understood what was going on. In an article that appeared in May 1980, the Press introduced “the homeless” to the general public: “The homeless are the old and confused, the alcoholics, and the ‘shopping bag’ people who sleep regularly in public places, unless...

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pp. 245-250

There is a fundamental question that is rarely asked: Who benefits from institutionalized homelessness? It is only through seeking answers to this question that we can begin to understand why homelessness has become more entrenched than ever, even after the country has spent billions of dollars on shelters and social services. Cleveland’s historical experience suggests...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 251-252


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pp. 253-281


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pp. 283-295

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613760277
E-ISBN-10: 1613760272
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558498488
Print-ISBN-10: 1558498486

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 24 illus.
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 794700483
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Derelict Paradise

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • City planning -- Ohio -- Cleveland.
  • Corporate power -- Ohio -- Cleveland.
  • Shelters for the homeless -- Ohio -- Cleveland.
  • Cleveland (Ohio) -- Social policy.
  • Homeless persons -- Ohio -- Cleveland.
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