The Reincarnation of Industrial-era American Cities.
"Scenes that just a few decades ago were simply unbeautiful are now dazzling.
And this blog argues this is because the beholder has changed their definition of beauty."
They're all over the northeast quadrant of the USA. Big, small, recovered, unchanged. Growing up in the 80's and 90's the sight of them instilled immediate emotions: sadness, disgust, fear, horror. Industrial cities! Decrepit brick beasts hibernating along major rivers. Twisted chain link fences, piles of tires, smokeless chimney spires, marvelously constructed vacant warehouses.
And now, all of a sudden, these places are hubs of economic growth again. Industrial era cities all along the east are growing. Old buildings are being reoccupied. Scenes that just a few decades ago were simply unbeautiful are now dazzling. And this blog argues this is because the beholder has changed their definition of beauty.
What exactly is shining a national spotlight on industrial era cities? And how does this relate to design?
As mentioned in earlier posts, we believe many people's mindsets are approaching a bit of a tipping point. We call this the Introspective Renaissance. And related to this movement is a renewed focus on how we work and spend most of our time. Cushy office jobs are no longer aspired, especially by millennials. And globalization - one of the reasons industrial cities found themselves so obsolete - is now itself going out of style. Economic nationalism combined with 'earning an honest day's living working with one's hands' is taking hold. And those of us who left industrial cities are now reoccupying them. And this is why there's a renewed sense of beauty in these places. We find them relevant again.
Industrial America is back. Maybe the spoils of successes (like cushy office jobs where you make more than enough money doing nothing too stressful) weren't chaotic enough for our minds. Maybe we needed dust and blisters. Maybe spurts of industry will return every time parts of society become too comfy.
There's a design lesson here, too. Those of use reoccupying vacant factories to build and create have a great sense of pride in our work. We understand there's a desire for fine things made locally. Quality, reliability and community - values that have been absent for some decades - are now important once again.
***Important note. I must acknowledge an elephant in my blog: there are people who never left industrial cities or who moved in after many of the original businesses left. Yet this blog focuses on the story of the privileged folks who were able to leave and then decide to return to industrial cities.
We've observed entire communities of people in our local Norwalk, Bridgeport and Stamford displaced by investment and renewed interest from those with more money. It would be nice if economic interests could be balanced against non-economic interests. And while I find beauty in the anthropology of American industrial cities, it can be heartbreaking to think of how careless is the juggernaut of real estate investment.