04 October 2012

‘Islands of sustainability’ created from former industrial areas

(The above image was selected from “Masterplans and Sustainable Cities” from the webpage of Sustainable Cities.  This is an interesting website worthy of exploration. )

It is a tragedy when cities have been left behind by the structural global economic changes and not able to transition from the Industrial Age to the Information Age resulting in  large areas of derelict urban landscapes, such as found in Detroit and other cities in the Rust Belts of North American and Europe. The only solution away from further decline is the transformation of these areas in congruence with the emerging sustainability paradigm, which is scaleless.

Stakeholders (including the general public)  in these stressed cities have to think large.  This is not the first time, that tragedy has struck an American city.  Like organisms, cities sometimes  have loss of sustenance/raison d’être.(industries leaving, dwindling hinterland, technological changes such as ship to railroads ), have an illness (crime, fiscal mismanagement, corruption, racism), grow old (lack of adaptability)  or an accident (eathquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, etc.)  which cause immediate deaths or slow deaths (i.e., ghost towns in the Western U.S. when collapsing when the gold ore was depleted  or many cities in the Classical period that did not rebuild after a series of earthquakes. Hurricane Katharina's effect on New Orleans , decline of American automobile industry etc.) Sometimes cities have natural attributes, leadership  etd. giving them the ability to adapt and sometimes become greater than before the tragedy (i.e., Chicago after its Great Fire), San Francisco after the major earthquake in the 1900s ,  Istanbul, Turkey who has experienced numerous earthquakes, rebuilt and resumed its progress, or London which ceased to be the center of the British Empire.

Often the ability for a city to think large, perhaps in the past inspired by such individuals such as Daniel Burnham, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Jane Jacobs, Robert Moses, and Jaime Lerner.  They all were modern-day shamans who saw visions and inspired others to envision different futures.  Now we have not one person leading the future of cities, but a self-organized, chaotic and complex ‘collective intelligence’ focused on bringing into reality a sustainable world at all scales, including urban areas.  One cans see a glimmer of this in the global Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring.   The global malaise is that a significantand influential portion of the elites cannot go beyond a mindset that is built on 19th Century concepts of economics and politics.
In redevelopment of derelict areas, the local government acting as the engine and land assembler can not think in terms of normal redevelopment as initiated in the 1980s, but go beyond this to creating ‘islands of sustainability.’  These would be derelict areas that would be regenerated to contain urban farming, mixed used (commercial including offices, residential, industrial, schools, and government institutions) , transit-bicycle-and pedestrian- oriented, environmentally sensitive, parks/green spaces and clean energy adaptions (i.e. solar, wind and geo-thermal-if available.)  The area should not be thought of as an a architectural design effort, but one also creating  a community whose purpose is to promote sustainability.   These 'islands of sustainability would also be ones where there is housing for lower income along side middle and high income residences, technology equipped (i.e. free high-speed Internet, special cables etc), direct democracy opportunities, community centers (for meetings, adult education etc.)

These ideas which might seem utopian,  but within our grasp sustainable islands can be created with available technology.  Examples of places in the U.S. that have reclaimed delinquent industrial areas and incorporated some of these sustainability concepts are the Monomonee Valley in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and The High Line in New York City. (I would like to express thanks to a colleague for alerting me of the latter redevelopment/regeneration project.)   In Europe, there has also efforts to transform old industrial areas such as in Bilbao, Liverpool, Manchester and the Ruhr Valley. As with any planning projects, there are problems.  This bog entry can not go the details of these projects.   If possible, other blog entries will evaluate efforts of large scale regeneration of delinquent industrial areas.

If you have comments or want to mention places where there has been significant efforts to address sustainability of former industrial areas,, please post them on the comments section, with a link or other reference document these efforts. I also welcome guest bloggers.

Dr. Michael A McAdams, is an activist, consultant, academic, blogger and writer specializing in urban issues, transportation planning, sustainabilty, and Geographic Information Science/spatial technologies. He is the author of numerous articles, monographs and books.  His most recent project was an edited book with Ivani Vassoler-Froelich ,and Jesus Treviño-Cantú, The Geography, Politics, and Architecture of Cities: Studies in the Creation and Complexification of Culture.  He can be contacted by e-mail at michaelamcadams@yahoo.com

1 comment:

SLCtransit said...


This links to the Granary District in SLC, UT that is an industrial area in transition. It includes links to a variety of related materials.