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Scrap or Die | VICE

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Jay and his cohorts, he explained, didn’t do hit-and-runs; they worked in teams, living in an abandoned building like this for weeks while meticulously taking apart every square foot for all it was worth. A scrapper like Jay can earn a couple thousand bucks on a big haul. Metal thieves with his approach are so good at tearing things apart, in fact, that sometimes the City of Cleveland has had to replace support beams and girders of buildings after they’ve been gutted so the huge structures don’t just collapse. Jay, by his own reckoning, told me he was in the “deconstruction business”—and in Cleveland, business is booming.

If Anthony and locals favor demolition, though, to people like Shorty and Jay—unemployed and without many legal job prospects—demolition represents a wasted economic opportunity. As I left Slavic Village, I thought of something Shorty had told me. “You’ve got thousands of condemned homes in Cleveland,” he’d said. “What do they do with all the stuff in those buildings? They send it to a landfill. Why wouldn’t you let someone who is unemployed go into a building and get what they can get? It’s going to be demolished anyway.”Maybe that is the paradox of scrapping: the same economic forces that created the housing crises also helped create the scrappers who survive on its wreckage. And so, while city leaders like Anthony might see scrappers as their enemies—leeches on the city’s meager resources—both parties are part of the same destroyed economy and neither will likely stop harassing the other until the city finds some larger economic salve for its wounds. They’re all on this sinking ship together.Demolition does have one upside—the opportunity to build something new and exciting in the place of what’s been torn down. The Slavic Village neighborhood is, unfortunately, an anomaly on the east side of Cleveland, with its velodrome and community gardens. Unlike the west side of town, with its hip, unconventional workspaces for artists in old factories, the east side is looking more and more like one of those ghost towns you see in old westerns. It’s not hard to imagine tumbleweeds blowing down the middle of some streets in Central—before falling into an uncovered manhole.

I like the phrase "deconstruction business".

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