Battle Against the Bulldozer: The Creative Destruction of Philadelphia

Vet Implosion

As much as any American city in the twenty-first century, Philadelphia has been defined by large-scale urban erasure—slum clearance, blight eradication, and demolition by neglect—that has shaped the urban fabric and marked the civic psyche. In this lecture, Jeff Byles, demolition historian and writer on the contemporary urban landscape, surveys the city’s complex relationship with “unbuilding” as a potent planning tool. From midcentury projects such as Independence Mall and Society Hill, to Mayor John Street’s far-reaching Neighborhood Transformation Initiative and today’s more nuanced anti-blight interventions, Philadelphia offers a provocative case study in razing and renewal. How has demolition shaped the city of today? What urban potential can be harnessed through destruction? The future city, Byles suggests, demands a careful yet creative engagement with demolition’s dynamic.

Jeff Byles has written about architecture, urbanism, and culture for The New York Times, The Village Voice, Metropolis, Modern Painters, Cabinet, and other publications. He is the author of Rubble: Unearthing the History of Demolition (Harmony Books, 2005), named a Best Book of the Year by The Village Voice and Time Out New York, and is co-author of A History of Design from the Victorian Era to the Present (Norton, 2011). Jeff studied English literature at the University of California, Berkeley, and holds a MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. Formerly the managing editor of The Architect’s Newspaper, he is currently Director of Research at Van Alen Institute in New York.

Battle Against the Bulldozer is a public program of Temple Contemporary’s city-wide initiative Funeral for a Home. Funeral for a Home has been funded by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. For more information about this project visit Battle Against the Bulldozer is also generously supported by The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, Temple University’s Department of Community and Regional Planning, The Department of Geography and Urban Studies, The Department of Architecture, and Tyler School of Art.