PLAN 89: Article
Industrial Urbanism: Places of Production

A Symposium and Gallery Exhibit

The role of industry in the city was the focus of a symposium and a gallery exhibit this fall, produced and coordinated by planning department head Eran Ben-Joseph with Tali Hatuka, Head of the Laboratory of Contemporary Urban Design at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Geography and Human Environment.  

The events were prompted by the fact that current shifting labor markets, technological changes and resurgent metropolitan growth are calling upon us to reimagine the role of industry in our cities.  The October symposium and the exhibit both aimed to move the conversation beyond overly-simplified and overly-negative characterizations of urban industrialism to explore the relationship between current urban planning practices and the types of places that are actually designated for the production of goods today.

Among the event’s organizing questions: Is there a way to design in an industrial city while also nurturing livability and quality of life for residents?  What might future relationships between city and industry look like? Should contemporary manufacturing be subject to the same rules and zoning regulations as its predecessors?  And in the long view, what could be the benefits of pursuing, retaining, attracting and increasing manufacturing activity?

Since the Industrial Revolution, cities and industry have evolved together, with company towns and entire metropolitan regions growing up around factories and expanding industries. But in recent decades, many older manufacturers have downsized their research divisions and outsourced production capacity, leaving a large opening for newer firms to emerge.

Today, more than two centuries after the start of the Industrial Revolution, policy makers, planners and designers have an opportunity to re-consider the ways industry creates places, sustains jobs and promotes environmental sustainability. The symposium highlighted distinctly promising news about manufacturing, and distinct challenges for urban planners.

The promise is that many varieties of high-tech manufacturing have emerged in recent years, in areas including nanotechnology, medical devices, advanced materials and digital production. Those industries often take smaller-scale forms that could be adapted to existing urban spaces, helping revitalize cities.

But if cities have an opportunity to import new, smaller, cleaner manufacturers, politicians and planners in many cities still have difficult decisions to make about precisely where to place them, and on what terms. For startups and other firms growing out of research labs and academia, proximity to universities is important.

But the idea of planning urban growth around intellectual capital is never entirely straightforward, and involves nuts-and-bolts questions about industrial building stock, for instance. As several conference speakers noted, new industrial structures tend to have high ceilings to allow triple-stacks of standardized industrial pallets to be moved in and out by forklifts. Beautiful older industrial buildings may not be perfectly suited to adaptation for new manufacturing, leading to a variety of planning and design quandaries.

The exhibit accompanying the symposium addressed the topic through three themes – Production, People and Places. The themes were presented, both separately and in relation to one another, as components that reposition the city as a key actor for industry and production, and restore industry to its historic role as a crucial element in the weave of the urban fabric.  On view from September 5 through December 19 in SA+P’s Wolk Gallery, the exhibition reexamined how industry can create place, sustain jobs and promote environmental sustainability, all within the urban fabric. More information on both the symposium and the exhibit can be found here: 

This story is based in part on a report by Peter Dizikes, MIT News.