Archive for the ‘Gentrification’ Category


This essay will appear in Grace Lee Boggs’ Living For Change column of the Michigan Citizen.

Manufacturing can save our cities.  We should not view it only as dying.   Instead, we must rethink it within a “community-scaled” framework that produces products, jobs, skills, relationships, and stronger neighborhoods.

The familiar narrative about manufacturing in the U.S. begins at the turn of the 20th century.  Manufacturing gave us prosperity.It gave us global economic power. It created a robust middle class.  It ramped up at unprecedented scales to meet the demands of mass consumption, particularly in the automobile industry.  Cities like Detroit (“Arsenal of Democracy”) and Philadelphia (“Workshop of the World”) were hailed as success stories of the Industrial Revolution.

This revolution did not last forever.  Deindustrialization began in the post World War II years.  With automation the number of workers required on the line declined significantly.  As the labor movement grew in strength, companies left for the suburbs. Today corporate urban flight extends overseas, and the bastions of American industry struggle with the devastating effects of disinvestment and rising unemployment rates.

Economic development solutions for de-industrialized cities often fall into two categories.  The first looks at the physical conditions of thousands of derelict buildings sitting idly across the landscape and devises programs that rehabilitate neglected industrial buildings for commercial or residential uses.  E.g.  former factories are converted into luxury condos. The second approach focuses on job creation by building a “knowledge-based” economy. Advances in digital technologies have sped up globalization, placing a premium on jobs in this sector. To become a “knowledge city”, cities invest in research institutions that develop technological innovations in science and engineering. Advocates believe that cities with a strong knowledge economy will increase their global competitive edge.

These prevailing approaches do not leave much room for viewing  manufacturing as part of the equation for urban revitalization .  Should every abandoned factory become high-end residential lofts? Is the knowledge economy the panacea for all de-industrialized cities?  Instead,  manufacturing is caricatured as an industry encumbered with union lobbyists or associated with a dying era, one that should step aside for the Information Age.

A Brooklyn-based non-profit is demonstrating the viability of community-scaled manufacturing.  Through the acquisition, rehabilitation, and management of neglected industrial spaces, Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center has transformed six properties into top-rate facilities.  These buildings mainly house custom-made artisanal operations, like woodworkers, upholsterers, and fabricators.  Over 100 businesses reside in GMDC’s buildings, supporting over 500 workers. The majority of employees are residents from the surrounding neighborhood, showing that community-scaled manufacturing can deter fears of gentrification and displacement.

Economist E.F. Schumacher said, “If you get too many useful machines , you will get too many useless people”. By encouraging  the reuse of supposedly obsolete industrial infrastructure, community-scaled manufacturing is a place-based strategy that  roots manufacturers in their local areas. It addresses workforce development concerns about the lack of skilled workers. The apprentice-style education provides a way for people to discover and develop their own abilities.

Thus manufacturing becomes a step towards broadening  hands-on opportunities for many people. Jobs in trade and craft are good skills;  community-scaled manufacturing recovers the societal value of jobs in which people make things.  Its inherent small-scale demands a localized economy and has the capacity to advance craftsmanship, promote education, and build stronger communities.

Manufacturing can, should, and is taking place in our cities.  More communities are recognizing the need to localize  goods and services.  The local food security movement reflects this understanding.  Community-scaled manufacturing can realize similar outcomes. It has the ability to bring the consumer closer to the producer, decrease the ecological footprint of manufacturing, improve local economies, and encourage self-sufficiency. We can let go of the old way of manufacturing – its polluting factories and menial labor — and embrace the future of community-scaled manufacturing.

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The Philly Chinatown community is once again fighting to maintain their survival.  Threats to Chinatown’s future began as early as the projects that brought the Vine St. Expressway (I-676), Market East and the convention center  during the urban renewal period.  Because of the fast-track nature of the casino proposal, the community and its allies are put in a tough position to respond quickly, and the op-ed sums up the questionable package put forth by the mayor. Perhaps Philly activists can take a cue from Detroit’s anti-casinos struggle. Detroit former mayor Coleman A. Young challenged the anti-gambling activists to go beyond merely protesting the construction of casinos and to answer the question: if not casinos, what kind of development could save our city?

Thanks to Joanie for sharing this op-ed with me.

IT’S HARD TO imagine how answering a call to revitalize American cities could go wrong for Philadelphia, but somehow it happened.Last month, the Nutter administration submitted a $2.6 billion wish list for President-elect Obama’s economic stimulus package. Out of 400 cities, Philadelphia ranked No. 2 in the amount of money requested. And second on the city’s list (in dollars) was $125 million for the redevelopment of Market East in anticipation of a proposed casino.

Never mind that city officials rushed through a rezoning process saying the casino itself would be the catalyst for development in the area. Never mind that four months later, there isn’t even a plan in place. Continue Reading »

Earlier this week, an article in the Detroit News broke a story about Ilitch Holdings purchasing the Detroit Masonic Temple in the Cass Corridor neighborhood. For those unfamiliar with Detroit power names, the Ilitches own pretty much all the major entertainment and sports real estate in the city, as well as the Little Caeser’s pizza business. It’s no doubt that when the Ilitches put in money in an area, the neighborhood will transform.

The Cass Corridor (not to be mistaken, or replaced by, “Midtown”) definitely needs some major uplift.  Perhaps the Ilitches will bring enough resources to bring the beautiful Masonic Temple to its fullest grandeur. Question for me is, how is the neighborhood going to change with the Ilitches as its newest resident?  I used to live in the Cass Corridor, and the news gives me mixed feelings. I don’t mind big developers who want to put resources in a cash poor area, but this kind of transformation usually comes with the heavy, unrelentless hand of gentrification. Since leaving Detroit, I have been given the opportunity to observe how various paces of gentrification is playing out in urban communities like Brooklyn, DC and Philadelphia. At times it is very quiet, taking its time over a span of 15 years, like the neighborhood I stayed in Brooklyn. Or, it takes place in the jolting changes  in areas of northeast DC, where people (non-residents) wouldn’t even give it a second’s thought to go to those neighborhoods three years ago.

The Cass Corridor can’t remain what it is currently, where vacant lots and abandoned buildings remain and where the police dump homeless folks, drug addicts and other people falling through the system’s cracks. Nor do I advocate for the presence of the Ilitches, whose impact may repeat the kind of gentrification that occurred under the shadows of Detroit Tiger’s Comerica Park stadium, erasing historic Brush Park, a once-predominately black neighborhood now largely replaced with cookie cutter new urbanism architecture.

It would be shameful if we can’t recognize the neighborhood in five years. The kind of “gentrification” the Cass Corridor needs is the kind that we have few models of, and the closest thing I can point to is the type of development that Avalon Bakery has brought into the Cass Corridor.  The owners set up shop on a blighted city block, fostering five more local businesses to open their doors on the same street. Today, there are people walking, bustling, biking, taking care of each other on the block.

The Cass Corridor is also hotbed of amazing community initiatives that are doing more than just transforming the way the neigborhood looks. The Cass Corridor is home to Detroit Summer, Back Alley Bikes, the Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Corporation, a slew of community gardens, and the historic Detroit Chinatown. I hope that these community entities will get together to put some stakes in the ground, and secure a strong community structure.

More for full text of article: Continue Reading »