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2019 Annual Conference


March 07-10, 2019

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2019 SPE Annual Conference: The Myths of Photography and the American Dream / Major support by The Joy Family Legacy Foundation

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Melissa Stallard

SPE Member since 2010
Member Chapter: Midwest

The Shrinking City

(2010 - 2013)

This series was generously funded by The University of Akron's Summer Research Fellowship (2013), a major competitive grant promoting faculty research and development as well as a UA Mary Schiller Myers School of Art, Folk Faculty Tools & Materials Grant (2012.)

These photographs document the results of a long-term economic crisis in Youngstown, Ohio and the city's transition into a more stable, smaller city surrounded by the ghosts of its prosperous industrial past. Until now, the economic climate and its long-term effects on the area, has not been subject to serious photographic investigation. This is particularly significant since it is the first community in the United States to have purposefully set out to downsize its topographical footprint in order to remain viable. Rather that sensationalizing urban ruin, this series documents the city as it is and the measures taken by civic leaders and community activists to improve the quality of life for their city's residents.
Youngstown has an astounding 22,000 empty lots and 7,000 abandoned homes with only 66,000 residents remaining. The vacant areas within this community simultaneously stand as a reverent and melancholic reminder of the city's former glory yet also grant it its future. The city's East side, emblematic of more hopeful times, was developed after World War II; streets were carved into the landscape, lined with utility poles, and fitted with a water and sewer system in anticipation of economic growth. The expected surge of industry and people never came, leaving the area under-utilized, and finally, abandoned by its planners. Many of the existing streets are overgrown and blocked with concrete barriers. Expansive plots of land, once the promise of Youngstown's future, stand silent, overgrown with trees. Other neighborhoods plagued with blight are razing unoccupied structures. Only footprints of former structures remain, evidenced by sunken earth, overgrown sidewalks and driveway aprons; an indication of the passage of time.
Amidst the decline, there is hope. The city has designated some areas to return to the natural habitat or public-use green space while others will become urban farms or raised-bed community gardens. As the nation's poorest city, with 49.7% of its residents living at-or-below poverty level, these gardens provide a safe place, and through free education, enable the residents with the skills necessary to cultivate their own food. These things strengthen the fractured communities by empowering the people: improving their quality of life and increasing property values by reducing unsightly blight and crime.

Leaning House, Campbell, Ohio

Concrete Houses

Dedicated to the People

Vine-covered Bridge

Phonograph Mural, Campbell, Ohio

Rope/Tree, Brier Hill

Lucky Rooster

Smoldering Foundation

Youngstown Sheet and Tube Hospital

Make Offer

Vine-covered House

Deconstructed Railroad Bridge

View of Downtown from the East Side

Campbell, Ohio

Garden Shears, Campbell, Ohio

Youngstown Sheet and Tube Employee Housing

North Quarter Farm

Early Road Farm

Painted Windows and Door, Idora Neighborhood

Poland Road, Youngstown

Community Garden, Oak Hill

Garden Dog

Lincoln Knolls Community Garden

Fairgreen Community Garden

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