Ruins Among Us: (Post) Industrial Space

A few weeks ago, my friend and I spent a Sunday morning documenting a gargantuan industrial property situated on the borderlands between Essex and Hudson Counties, New Jersey. We snapped hundreds of photographs, jotted down notes, and exchanged innumerable observations. Recently, we transformed our creative material into an article submitted to a very niche and captivating publication. Fingers crossed.

During our urban archaeological exploration and our writing efforts, we realized that such mothballed industrial and institutional sites risk being lost to history and the collective imagination. Such places are often brutal, ugly, unwieldy, and highly contaminated, if not outright toxic, yet they embody a vanishing way of life and work. In more vibrant, affluent localities, the better preserved or historically landmarked structures might be rehabbed and converted into offices, businesses, apartments, work spaces, or even light industrial centers.

DUMBO, Brooklyn has transitioned from a shipping and industrial engine into a neighborhood of pricey real estate, tech firms, trendy nightlife, and cutting edge culture. In Sunset Park, Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Army Terminal has blossomed as an anchor for innovative light industry in the city. However, for every such case, a huge swath of a struggling city remains blighted by long empty warehouses, factories, and workshops. Think Detroit or small cities in Pennsylvania.

packard
Former Packard factory, Detroit, Michigan (Courtesy of Sometimes Interesting).

These industrial spaces dot our cities, towns, and countrysides. While they once represented power, prosperity, opportunity, and stability, today these same spaces are abandoned, forgotten, and crumbling–much like our confidence in our country, its leadership, and its people. Is it merely a coincidence that we see our future reflected in such buildings?

A stubborn aura clings to these rusted factories, scrapped hospitals, and collapsed schools, enticing us with hazy recollections of reliable well-paying employment and a sure footing on the world stage. This aura enchanted a segment of the voting public and swept Donald Trump into the White House.

Will a robust manufacturing sector return to the United States, especially its Rust Belt? I’ll not delve into such speculation. Nonetheless, I do believe our industrial heritage deserves to be documented and its history chronicled before its falls beneath the wrecking ball or nature swallows it whole.

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