Nicholas Caverly

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Michigan, Ann Arbor, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 9326

Approve Date

October 5, 2016

Project Title

Caverly, Nicholas L., U. of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI - To aid research on 'What Remains: Building Removal, Worker Retraining, and Toxic Materials in Detroit,' supervised by Dr. Erik Mueggler

Preliminary abstract: This project examines how the destruction of built environments reconfigures economic and environmental inequalities in the postindustrial United States. It does so by investigating the demolition of vacant buildings in Detroit. Estimated to number between 70,000 and 100,000, vacant buildings index decades of racially motivated population decline and deindustrialization. Such structures are concentrated in poorer, minority inhabited neighborhoods, where they become targets of arson and sites of crime, emit noxious fumes, and reduce property values. Hundreds of millions in public funds have been committed to demolish 50,000 vacant buildings by 2020, with funds directed to private enterprises that sell land to developers while they demolish buildings and train welfare recipients and recently paroled convicts to do so. Municipal, state, and federal administrators credit removal as a means of ‘developing a financially stable, decontaminated city.’ Still, as hazardous built environments are removed from Detroit’s landscape, public health advocates and occupational health regulators contend they produce new hazards, including emissions of toxin-laced demolition dust. Using ethnographic methods, this project asks: (1) How does the removal of polluted buildings become a process of selling land? (2) How are marginalized people made into a demolition workforce? (3) How does the removal of contaminated built environments generate new claims to toxic exposure, from whom, and to what ends? By bridging literatures on cities and built environments, economic transformations, and toxic matter, this project asks how processes of removal give rise to new formations of value and inequality through intersecting configurations of land, work, and contamination.