About Land Refresh

This blog showcases landscape architecture and urban design industrial heritage projects, featuring sites in western Europe visited August and September of 2012. The opportunity to embark on these travels was awarded to me by the University of Illinois with the Edward L. Ryerson Traveling Fellowship in Landscape Architecture.

The following is the introduction to my research interests for this trip, which was submitted to the selection committee for the Ryerson Traveling Fellowship:

Public projects in landscape architecture are more and more frequently addressing and repurposing the remnants of our industrial heritage. As manufacturing economies immigrate to newly industrialized countries (NICs) the cities and regions they once supported are now working with the built environment of their industrial past to promote creative culture and tourism to ultimately attract new people and jobs to their cities.

“It is the passage of these brownfield lands from dereliction and pollution to culturally energetic and socially sustainable creative centers that thrusts these formerly discounted lands into becoming vital agents of change. (1)”

In the United States we see successful projects such as New York City’s High Line project by James Corner Field Operations and Michael Van Valkenburg Associates’ Brooklyn Bridge Park building public green spaces on former working infrastructures. Projects like these bring new life to their neighborhoods and change the way people think about their built environment. When people activate these formerly private industrial spaces they gain an experience that is built upon the history of the industry and hardworking people who once put these spaces to work. I’m interested in the potential of the post-industrial built environment. The design and programming of these unique landscapes and spaces is a creative balance of preservation, education and participation. I think it is important to develop an understanding of how and why projects working with and within post-industrial cities and sites are successful (or unsuccessful) programmatically.

In post-industrial European nations industrial heritage has been used as a point for tourism and economic development. Cultural promotion is approached through museums and the re-purposing of industrial sites for creative and cultural venues. Service economies replace manufacturing economies as old warehouses and factories become art galleries, concert halls, restaurants and museums. Projects such as the Bilbao Ría 2000 redevelopment project, Westgasfabriek Culture Park in Amsterdam and Duisburg-nord, Oberhaussen and Zollverein in the Ruhr region of Germany have all transformed brownfields and industriekutture (industrial heritage objects) into urban cultural resources.

 “Remains that people used to think of as merely in the way have turned into structures that impart a sense of pride and identity.(2)”

Industrial history is considered a common European heritage, and in North West Europe post-industrial some cities have a developed a regional route that connects international heritage sites through a system of anchor points that feature ten themes of past economies (3). The European Route of Industrial Heritage (ERIH) weaves through the rust belt of Europe connecting people to the towns, landscapes and metropolitan regions of the Industrial Revolution. “The underlying objectives are to protect Europe’s industrial heritage sites and use their preservation as a motor for the development of regions that are often suffering from economic decline.(4)”

The European Capital of Culture program puts cities into focus for one year as the host of a series of European cultural events. The program fosters urban regeneration and creative growth and brings new vitality to the host cities (5).   Cities such as Essen and Rotterdam have used this opportunity to spur their tourism economies and creative sectors. This, in turn, attracts people and businesses to move to these culturally active cities.

Tourism economies and service economies depend on an environment and atmosphere that encourages people to visit for a unique experience, this is referred to as an “experience economy.(6)” Using industrial heritage to develop an experience economy depends greatly on the success of the designers and city planners that work to re-integrate these artifacts with their surrounding communities (7). Sustainable development of these urban regions depends on the creative sector to bring new life to the architecture and landscapes of the industrial past. Social sustainability is key. Attractions, activities and culture keep these places relevant and make them important resources for their cities and neighborhoods.

“As many cities have discovered… [there is] no better way of standing out from its competitors than by embracing culture. By putting the arts in a setting where the city of the past, the city of heavy industry and physical labour, is tangible all around, the metamorphosis of the city is almost literally depicted. (8)”

If awarded the 2012 Edward L. Ryerson Traveling Fellowship in Landscape Architecture I would use the opportunity to explore, observe, record and participate in the acttractions and activities of redevelopment and industrial heritage projects of European rust belt cities. I plan to document the aesthetic culture, programmed activities and landscape and urban design associated with what are considered “experience economies.”

 “It is sometimes forgotten that, to bring a place to life you also need software—that the public space and buildings need activities to attract the public. (9)”

End Notes and Literary Resources


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