01 October 2012

Regeneration: a new life for abandoned buildings in economically depressed cities

(Image located on “Lessons from Germany's Rust Belt” article in the GreenCityBlueLake blog.)

If we view places like Detroit, Gary (Indiana), areas of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo, we might see a a dystopia of crumbling abandoned factories, vacant houses, shopping areas etc.; cities left behind as the global economy restructures itself.  Although many of these buildings will have to be demolished and some cities downsized, there is an opportunity for the reuse of these buildings to provide opportunities in redevelopment, employment and orientation toward the ‘new economy’.  Overriding the reuse of buildings should be an ongoing regional planning process where there is a commitment by all segments to change that does not dwell on the past, but sees new opportunities; particularly in the Green Economy and the developing global technological sector.  

Beginning on the process of reuse does not have to be belabored, but can be as simple as selecting one building for rehabilitation, as a model, then building up the number for rehabilitation.  Many of these buildings are historically significant, structurally sound and can be adequately rebuilt and renovated for other uses.

In two articles “Lessons from Germany's Rust Belt” and “Europe finds industrial reuse drives tourism” in the GreenCityBlueLake blog, Marc Lefkowitz examines the rehabilitation of megalithic factories as found both in the Rust Belt of the U.S. and that of the Ruhr Valley in  Germany. In the first  article, the example of an abandonded factory area that was reused in the Essen in the Ruhr Valley as multi-use center (an ice skating area, museum, recreation center), as pictured above, is touted as a possible means for these iconic structures from the Industrial Era to be reused.  The key in the revitalization was public funding from the German government and the inclusion of the art and design community.  In the second article, the author mentions the aspect of linking the historic industrial sites together and also creating green areas where there was once stark industrial buildings.  There are several areas in the U.S. that are attempting to do the same. One such example is the greening of the Menomonee Valley in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,  a former industrial/port area. I personally am aware of this area and used this in my dissertation on urban morphology. Although at the study period, the area was full of derelict building and desolate vacant space.

The key in these projects is the redirection of public funds, inclusion of the art community, architects, urban planners, the private sector and citizens to create the right atmosphere for redevelopment. A vision has to be established and strong leadership from all sectors to accomplish this.  Simply, the success of these projects was inclusion, creativity, a vision (plan), and a positive ‘can do attitude.’ The redevelopment of these areas create more jobs, more recreational spaces, cultural opportunities and more vibrancy to an area that formerly was a decrepit area. There is a need to have grand ideas and visions and at the same time to think incrementally and pragmatically.

The blog which Mr. Lefkowitz writes is sponsored by GreenCityBlueLake Institute, part of The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, which promotes sustainability in the Cleveland area.  These articles are a sample of some very well written blog entries.  I would advise further examining the blog, as it only focuses on Cleveland, but larger issues.

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 , author of numberous 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

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