In 2011, Ford closed their 122-acre St. Paul, Minnesota plant after 86 years of production. The community has developed around the plant and Ford’s impact on the area is a fixture of this cultural landscape. The closure of automotive plants in the US is not a new phenomenon: In the last 33 years, 267 of 447 factories have closed. In some cases, such as the well-publicized Flint, Michigan landscape, such closures leave massive holes in the continuity of communities.
Ford built this plant on the edge of a steep bluff adjacent to the Mississippi River minutes from downtown St. Paul and has provided thousands of jobs over the years.
The designers of the plant endeavored for minimal disruption to the surrounding landscape. Ford utilized a nearby railroad for shipping to avoid making the maze of wide roads typical of industrial areas. Additionally, they drew power from a hydroelectricity plant situated on the river. The campus was kept low and fairly confined rather than a sprawl of concrete. The architect Albert Kahn utilized a classical style in the buildings with tile roofs and large windows facing the river. Silica for auto windows was mined from the sandstone beneath the plant. The residential neighborhood around the plant, some of it built by Ford in the 1920s, is a mix of single and multi-family units as well as neighborhood shops. There is no argument that the factory is tied to the place upon which it rests.
So how can the community maintain its connection to the plant even as it transitions into the future? Currently, a planning commission comprised of neighboring residents, developers, the City of St. Paul, and capstone students have used outreach tools and public meetings to negotiate a fate for the site. Five proposals have thus been put forward: the feasibility of each of these is now under review. Those include:
- Industrial reuse accentuated by green infrastructure and existing conditions;
- Flex Tech with variety of purposes from retail to light industrial and residential;
- Office/Institutional with emphasis on research and education;
- Urban Village reflecting existing urban residential context and character;
- High Density Urban Transit Village with multi-modal urban transit and interconnected park system.
Do you think it is possible for communities to redevelop industrial sites balancing social, ecological and economic goals, while following models of sustainability?
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