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Thread: Your View Of Industrial America

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    Cyburbian Emeritus Bear Up North's avatar
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    Your View Of Industrial America

    Industrial America has always intrigued me. Sure, it's dirty, fugly, causes all kind of environmental problems, is responsible for numerous social ills. Yet, to me it has a sort of interesting beauty.

    It is complex, exciting, challenging. When we were kids we traveled from Toledo, OH to Milwaukee, WI, about four (4) times a year, to visit friends of the parents. I would really enjoy the show outside our car's window as we approached places like Gary, IN and some of the roads we went on in central Milwaukee.

    My mind would be racing about all the logistical goings-on involved with these giant industrial complexes. I would wonder where the train with the coils of steel was going, why the yard outside of the building had giant lifting cranes, what was flowing out of that pipe, etc.

    Industrial America......and the industrial world.....gives us all of those things we live with, play with, drive in, tamper with, work with, cool with, heat with, etc. Industrial America gives much of the world a standard of living unmatched in human history. (Yeah, yeah.......all the problems, too....I hear ya!)

    Nowadays when I travel the freeways of the country I see a more modern industrial America. Many small towns with smaller, less invasive, industrial complexes. I still stare at them with curiousity......what is being made in that place? Is it a plastic product (usually can tell by pellet holding silos attached)? Is it just a warehouse facility (which will be taller, in most cases, to allow rooms for storage racks)? Do they process or make something big or heavy (railroad spurs are a good indicator)?

    I figure that there are "some" folks in the planning profession that are like me, finding a certain excitement with the trappings of industrial America.

    Bear
    Occupy Cyburbia!

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    As one who grew up in the center of industrial america, I share your interest Bear. Most of my times growing up in Detroit, I would only see a small portion of the factory areas. My typical environment was a neighborhood of brick colonials and ranches, schools, and neighborhood shopping distircts. We would drive by factories every once in a while but I would never give them the time of day. Most of the suto assembly plants were these large buildings, but relatively clean and boring. I don't count the steel mills seen from the Boblo boat (historic boats to an amusement park) either as they were all logically placed next to the water.

    Two drives really sparked my interest. One was with my brother during high school to visit our dad on the site of a road relocation project for the Hamtramck Assembly/Cadillac Factory. We went through the area around I-75 and Grand Blvd where there were numerous of the old factories still standing and went over a grade separation. At the crest of the separation was a vista I had not expected, several square miles of the city center had been cleared out to build this new facility. It basically looked like a giant scar on the earth.

    The second trip invovled riding the Greyhound to Cape Hatteras, NC (yes bear, we stopped in Toledo). Since the bus left out of Downtown Detroit I took a segment of I-75 I had never seen before - past the Ford Rouge Complex, Morton Salt Mines, Marathon and Sunoco refineries, and other steel mills. I realized that this was the Detroit that the rest of the world new us as, and it was in sharp contrast again to the rest of the City.

    On my trips to Chicago, these days I find myself driving routes like US-20 and US-12 through Gary just to check out how the area is slowly transforming from industrial to entertainment. I also like to see things like the sugar beets in production in Bay City on trips north, and when I make it out that far, what the west side of the state is doing. Impact of furntiure on Grand Rapids or the rapidly lost manufacturing jobs in Muskegon.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Rumpy Tunanator's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Bear Up North
    I figure that there are "some" folks in the planning profession that are like me, finding a certain excitement with the trappings of industrial America.

    Bear
    Yep, you should check out some of the grain elevator pictures I have in the gallery. I should probally do a follow up before I leave. I should also see if I can do Bethleham Steel too if I can get into the area. Supposedly its slated for demolition and renewal (problaby 20 blue moons from now).
    A guy once told me, "Do not have any attachments, do not have anything in your life you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner."


    Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro): Heat 1995

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    I am fascinated by industrial architecture-paricularly the pre-World War II era of red brick and towers. When I was a little kid, I always told my dad "Drive by the International Harvester (truck) plant." (Long closed because of recession, competition, globalization, and managerial incomeptence-Archie McCardle ) Fascinating place.

    Like so much else, the old industrial architecture was somehow more fascinating than today's beige concrete tilt-up "spec" space. Older industrial buildings remain one of my favorite photographic topics. San Francisco has a few ancient remnants of its history as a real port that are quite fascinating!

    The whole apocalyptic atmosphere near Gary is fantastic.

    I guess the bottom line for me is the aestheticization of industrial behemoths. Although the thrill of assembly lines is still there for all Midwesterners!

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Around here there aren't many industries, beyond the ones tied to direct expliotation of natural resources like salmoniculture or copper mining (Chiles' main income). Heavy industries like petrochemicals are located in Chiles' metropolitan areas (Concepcion, Valparaiso/Viña del Mar/Con Con, Santiago) Not many things are manufactured here due to either lack of qualified labor force, lack of natural resources, and most of all lack of competitiveness (way more cheaper to import than to produce)

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Like BKM, I love older industrial architecture. It has so much more character on the outside, and on the inside as well. These buildings evolved over time, often built for a specific purpose, around the machinery they contained, and sometimes even around the power systems of the time (water, for instance). In my job I am often getting inside the manufacturing buildings and getting tours. I went from places manufacturing things like bikes, hydraulic valves, and gaskets to places making pharmaceuticals, spacecraft, and lasers. We even have a company that broadcasts "adult entertainment" over cable systems and the internet. You would not believe how much content goes to just one house in central Kansas!
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  7. #7

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    I am always fascinated by how things work. I love wandering around in the old industrial neighborhoods. And while new industrial buildings do not have the same character, I still like to snoop around and see who is doing what. I also enjoy mines (strange for an environmentalist, but they are a necessity), oil fields, rail yards, etc.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Richmond Jake's avatar
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    I grew up in the town with the largest redwood sawmill in the state. When I was a kid, oh so many years ago, my neighbor and I would take the daily tour during the summer...sometimes several days a week (Ft. Bragg was a boring place). The mill has since closed. The last place I worked in California I went through a drywall manufacturing plant, brake-bulk port, and an oil refinery. No official tours there just a perk of being a public employee. Interesting stuff.
    Annoyingly insensitive

  9. #9

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    I grew up in a Gary-sized industrial city in the midwest, and it is clear to me that this experience had a profound impact on me, though I never could have expected that while I was growing up. I have also developed an interest in similar industrial cities (though I try not to bore my wife with vacations to McKeesport and Johnstown!). However, I grew up relatively privileged, and never had to consider the possibility of working in my city's steel mill (which were already on the decline by the 1980s) or one of its other industries...The history of how the industries of not only Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland built this country, but also its smaller industrial cities is one worth writing.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally posted by Kovanovich
    I grew up in a Gary-sized industrial city in the midwest, and it is clear to me that this experience had a profound impact on me, though I never could have expected that while I was growing up. I have also developed an interest in similar industrial cities (though I try not to bore my wife with vacations to McKeesport and Johnstown!). However, I grew up relatively privileged, and never had to consider the possibility of working in my city's steel mill (which were already on the decline by the 1980s) or one of its other industries...The history of how the industries of not only Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland built this country, but also its smaller industrial cities is one worth writing.
    I always drag family and friends through old warehouse and industrial districts. Probably not the best idea to be driving around Oakland's port district late at night.

    My father certainly did his time in various factories in my hometown. He even worked on the International Scout assembly line.

    I've never had a factory job myself, but working for an irrascable ex-marine in a restaurant kitchen wasn't much better.

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    Quote Originally posted by Bear Up North
    Industrial America has always intrigued me. Sure, it's dirty, fugly, causes all kind of environmental problems, is responsible for numerous social ills. Yet, to me it has a sort of interesting beauty.

    ....
    I figure that there are "some" folks in the planning profession that are like me, finding a certain excitement with the trappings of industrial America.

    Bear
    Im not in the planning proffession, but older higher-density, usually pre WWII industrial areas are interesting because they are so massive...and when you are talking about things like steel mills, some of the older coal mines, and perhaps foundrys or other process industries theres alot of pipes and tanks and machinery visible.

    I think the fun of exploring these areas was tagged by Douglas Copeland in his book "Generation X" as "Industrial Slumming"...because alot of these areas are derelict or nearly so nowadays.

    I've been doing alot of industrial slumming in Dayton over the past month or so, and could post some pix if anyone is interested. Dayton used to be pretty industrial, but alot of this has been torn down, too.

    Also, alot of it was not the masive "loft factory" type of industrial developement...lots of low-slung one or two story factories too. Some of the newer ones, like the suburban GM plant, are still impressive in their size, even if they are fairly low, they are just so durn big.

    My pix focue on the more bulky older buildings. Its interesting to trace the evolution of an "industrial vernacular" in this city, from the 19th century "red brick" era to the (probably) concrete framework loft factories of the 20th century.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Ft. Bragg Cali.

    Quote Originally posted by RichmondJake
    I grew up in the town with the largest redwood sawmill in the state. When I was a kid, oh so many years ago, my neighbor and I would take the daily tour during the summer...sometimes several days a week (Ft. Bragg was a boring place). The mill has since closed. The last place I worked in California I went through a drywall manufacturing plant, brake-bulk port, and an oil refinery. No official tours there just a perk of being a public employee. Interesting stuff.
    Ft. Bragg California is a very cool place....I think..... It also has that industrial character....It has some degree of mojo that I thought was unique in that 1950's movie type of way.....The sea lions down by the water front were cool too.....

    At a previous position, staff tried to get tours of various industrial or manufacturing plants every 3 months or so......it really helped me as a planner understand what is done inside the building or compound. Mining operations (sand/gravel or other) are also fun for tours.

    As far as old industrial, I've never really worked around it, so I can't comment on that issue as much as someone living in the "rust" belt and having grown up around old industrial. Most of my experience is with newer industrial that has the standard nasty look to it.....
    Last edited by The One; 07 Mar 2005 at 2:19 PM.
    "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."
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    Cyburbian the north omaha star's avatar
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    In Omaha, most of our industry dealt with food processing. I can still remember the odors from the old Stockyards of Hwy. 75 as we it South Omaha. We did have a couple of breweries in South Omaha as well. I think that industry is probably the number one population generator in the first half of the 20th century. Most of the black population in Omaha came from Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi to work in the defense plant (now Offutt AFB). Here in Baltimore they came from NC and SC to work at Beth Steel and Martin Marrietta.
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    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    I should also see if I can do Bethleham Steel too if I can get into the area. Supposedly its slated for demolition and renewal (problaby 20 blue moons from now).
    I snuck into the Bethlehem Steel complex a few years ago via the railroad tracks with my mountain bike. I wasn't in for 5 minutes when a security guard saw me and made me leave. He seemed surprised that I had gotten in at all. Its really fantastic for its scale and for the dark, hulking presence of the Blast furnaces. In Germany's Ruhr Valley they turned an old steel mill into a park. Not a park in the traditional sense, but one that uses the old structures, like Gas Works park in Seattle but on a much grander scale.

    As soon as I was old enough for my parent to allow me to bike where I wanted, I got away from my subdivision and headed for the railroad tracks and old industrial areas. That stuff was fascinating to me when I was a kid, probably partly due to "Model Railroader" magazine, which would define a kind of aesthetic of industry, of looking at them as interesting objects in space.
    Adrift in a sea of beige

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    I live not far from the Port of Newark and the mini rust belt of towns stretching down into central Jersey and north into the Hudson River Valley. There are fantastic old factory buildings and complexes in many towns that would be city-scaled if they were still functional. A few like the textile plants are still chugging along, but many are either deserted or gentrifying into lofts apartments, performance space, even schools (these tend to be painted in bright colors, which looks startling and interesting on those massive towered edifices). Some towns have retained the traditional street grid around the factory, e.g. industry near waterfront, followed by working class rowhouses stretching up a hill and growing lever larger and mansionlike as they move away, usually toward some park.You can almost see the factory men with their lunch pails walking to work (imagine that!), while the rich ladies stroll around in the "fresh air".
    Today the factory is likely to be some sort of marketplace, the rowhouses rental apartments, and the mansions homes to restoration happy yuppies. But somehow the urban fabric can accomodate all these transformations. The genius of pre-auto design never ceases to amaze me.

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    Quote Originally posted by boilerplater
    In Germany's Ruhr Valley they turned an old steel mill into a park. Not a park in the traditional sense, but one that uses the old structures, like Gas Works park in Seattle but on a much grander scale.
    Oh, heck it wasnt just one steelmill..it was a regional landscape strategy..the did that to steel mills, coal mine pitheads, gasworks, etc...and now other parts of Germany are going the same..there is a similar thing going on in the Saarland.

    That stuff was fascinating to me when I was a kid, probably partly due to "Model Railroader" magazine, which would define a kind of aesthetic of industry, of looking at them as interesting objects in space.
    Megadittos! Model Railroader" & "Model Railroad Craftsman" magazines:...mines, industrial districts, logging country, etc....in HO, O, or N scale.

    For me it wasn't so far to go as I lived 3 blocks from one of those industrial/railroad districts in Chicago...

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    Quote Originally posted by boilerplater
    I snuck into the Bethlehem Steel complex a few years ago via the railroad tracks with my mountain bike. I wasn't in for 5 minutes when a security guard saw me and made me leave. He seemed surprised that I had gotten in at all. Its really fantastic for its scale and for the dark, hulking presence of the Blast furnaces. In Germany's Ruhr Valley they turned an old steel mill into a park. Not a park in the traditional sense, but one that uses the old structures, like Gas Works park in Seattle but on a much grander scale.

    As soon as I was old enough for my parent to allow me to bike where I wanted, I got away from my subdivision and headed for the railroad tracks and old industrial areas. That stuff was fascinating to me when I was a kid, probably partly due to "Model Railroader" magazine, which would define a kind of aesthetic of industry, of looking at them as interesting objects in space.
    Did you ever drive along Poland Avenue in Youngstown, Ohio. THAT was amazing. I think it's all been torn down to make room for vacant lots with maybe a few strip malls for Chinese-made imports

  18. #18
    Back when I was a kid in the 60's and 70's Buffalo was a very active steel producer. There is no production left but there are a few specialty mills around.

    When visiting relatives in the south suburbs or going to the beach we used to take a rout past the gigantic Bethlehem mill (now mostly closed). I think it was the nations third largest. It sprawled for several miles along the lakefront in south suburban Lackawanna and even into neighboring Hamburg immediately followed by the massive ford stamping plant (still in operation). It was so big it had its own railroad.

    The road south was right next to the plant and you had a clear view into the grounds. On the other side of the street were small dirty little wood houses which I always assumed were houses for the workers. But, probably not since steel workers made a good wage. The huge plumes of smoke would rise up over the street and over the little houses. Daylight was turned orange in the center of the plume and some of the little houses were in permanent shade from the smoke.

    The little houses are still there and they don't even look so bad now. The smoke is gone.

    Another trip I would often take was to South Buffalo via the bus. The bus would wind through the heart of Buffalo's main industrial district. We would pass neighborhoods mixed with many industries including refineries, grain mills, and the Republic Steel plant. Republic was the exact opposite of the Bethlehem Plant. It was very small and urban built within a sharp bend in the snake like Buffalo River. The plant was on both sides of the road and the mill sheds were very close to the street with open ends. You could see right into the sheds with all kinds of fire and sparks lighting up the otherwise black interiors. sometimes the bus would have to stop as they carried hot slabs of steel across the road to the other side to the plant.

    I feel really lucky to have seen this stuff. If Bush had ever experienced this he would be much more environmentally sensitive
    Last edited by steel; 08 Mar 2005 at 10:17 PM.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally posted by steel
    Back when I was a kid in the 60's and 70's Buffalo was a very active steel producer. There is no production left but there are a few specialty mills around.

    When visiting relatives in the south suburbs or going to the beach we used to take a rout past the gigantic Bethlehem mill (now mostly closed). I think it was the nations third largest. It sprawled for several miles along the lakefront in south suburban Lackawanna and even into neighboring Hamburg immediately followed by the massive ford stamping plant (still in operation). It was so big it had its own railroad.

    Theres a big mill like that south of me, in Middletown, Ohio. It used to be Armco, but its called AK Steel. It goes on for miles, and is pretty much the entire south side of Middletown.

    Its visible from I-75, from a distance, but noticeable at night when they are flaring off excess gas from one of the chimneys..a big torch in the distance.

    The mill is visible from the surrounding countryside..you could be driving through a rural area, the road dips and the valley floor is visible, and there is this huge mill complex with its torch....the machine in the garden.


    For a long time the AK Middletown mill didnt have its own blast furnace and used two blast furnances in nearby Hamilton. They would run these kettle cars or "themos cars" of molten iron on a mill railroad along the river into the plant in Middletown, until they decided to finally build a blast furnace on-site. An old-timer told me that since that was a private railroad, cars had the right-of-way over trains at grade crossings...(sounds a bit like an urban legend)...

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