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Historic Heavy Industrial Sites: Obstacles and Opportunities

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The shutdown of heavy industrial complexes, a common occurrence in Western Europe and North America for the last half century or longer, often leaves manufacturing communities with little more than the hulking relics of a bygone age of prosperity. The conservation and adaptive reuse of steelworks and other heavy industrial complexes can benefit industrial communities socially and culturally. But there are often major obstacles to surmount. The least of which may be the complex's remote location or its fragile structural integrity. Obstacles of an economic and, moreover, of a social nature may make reuse infeasible. Furthermore, the economics of conservation are complex – possible financial returns may not be sufficient to justify conservation because these returns may never materialize. Therefore, what should communities take into account before choosing to move forward with conservation and reuse? Furthermore, when should communities choose conservation and reuse instead of demolition? This paper suggests that communities should pursue conservation and reuse when they are seeking a civic benefit, and when that end is sufficiently important to justify a substantial long-term investment in a project that may never be commercially viable. To explore this, the paper uses cases from the United States, Mexico, Germany, Luxembourg, and Italy where conservation and reuse yielded obvious social or cultural benefits. Chosen for their reputation as well as for their diversity, these projects differ by type of industrial use and represent practices spanning more than 40 years of development in the field. The trend in projects that conserve heavy industrial infrastructure suggests that the benefits of conservation and reuse have become more diverse and more substantial over time.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2017

More about this publication?
  • Built Environment is published quarterly in March, June, September and December. With an emphasis on crossing disciplinary boundaries and providing global perspective, each issue focuses on a single subject of contemporary interest to practitioners, academics and students working in a wide range of disciplines. Issues are guest-edited by established international experts who not only commission contributions, but also oversee the peer-reviewing process in collaboration with the Editors.

    Subject areas include: architecture; conservation; economic development; environmental planning; health; housing; regeneration; social issues; spatial planning; sustainability; urban design; and transport. All issues include reviews of recent publications.

    The journal is abstracted in Geo Abstracts, Sage Urban Studies Abstracts, and Journal of Planning Literature, and is indexed in the Avery Index to Architectural Publications.

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