We’ve all seen them in our own metro areas: former industrial sites operated before any environmental restrictions that now lie in varying degrees of decay and, sometimes, toxicity. The bad news is that there are any in existence at all; the good news is that many have been turned into beautiful, welcoming and environmentally friendly places that enhance their surroundings rather than destroy them. It takes money, effort and vision but it can be done and, surprisingly, the cost of transformation is less than the cost to demolish and redevelop the area.
Let’s look at some major makeovers and the positive impact they have had on their communities.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD
This is an oldie but goodie. Camden Yards was once the rail yard for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, encompassing 85 acres in the heart of Baltimore City and minutes away from the busy harbor. By the 1980s, its peak years as a hub were well behind it. How do you revitalize a maze of tracks and old buildings? You incorporate the former B&O Warehouse into a complex for a modern yet traditional baseball stadium – blending the historic with the state-of-the-art – that became the model for retro baseball stadiums throughout the US. WillScot’s corporate headquarters is in Fell’s Point, not far from Camden Yards, and another area of the city reclaimed from aging wharves, warehouses and factories. Today it’s a thriving business and residential area as well as a popular tourist attraction.
NYC’s High Line, New York City, NY
Another park that revived a railway system (the NY Central and West Side Line) is the High Line. This project is frequently mentioned when talking about rethinking and repurposing locations that outlived their original purpose. Used to transport goods to and from Manhattan’s industrial district until the 1980s, the 1.45 mile-long corridor of abandoned elevated railway tracks has been transformed into one of the city’s most popular destinations. Working with rather than destroying the self-seeded landscape that took over the tracks, the park provides residents and visitors a place to walk, relax, eat and enjoy a variety of cultural attractions.
The Gas Works Park, Seattle, WA
Formerly a coal gasification plant on the shores of Lake Union that was acquired by the city of Seattle in 1965, this park was a game-changer in how to reclaim polluted soils and industrial landscapes and reinvent them into a favorite destination for family gatherings and fun. Landscape artist Richard Haag described the process of retaining or removing old towers, stacks, pipes and sheds as “thinning the forest”. Now the old boiler house is used for a picnic shelter while a former exhauster-compressor building was turned into an open-air play barn full of rainbow-colored machinery for children. It’s been cited as a one of the “must see’ parks in the US.
Fresh Kills Park, Staten Island, NY
What many considered the “stinkiest” of all landfills – and the largest – has been resurrected into a vast green space full of wildlife that delights nature and weekend sports enthusiasts alike. Fresh Kills is three times the size of the ubiquitous Central Park and the largest park developed by NYC since the 19th century. To ensure the developed parklands above are separated from the landfill beneath, the park’s mounds are capped with an impermeable plastic liner and eight additional layers of barrier material. Landfill gas and any byproducts are managed by special piping and drainage channels. As a “thank you” for being rescued, the park played a major role in absorbing storm surge from Hurricane Sandy.
Sloss Furnaces, Birmingham, Alabama
The Sloss Furnaces produced pig iron, a metal made in blast furnaces then further refined into steel, from 1881 until the company ceased its operations in 1970. Rather than allowing the complex to rust away and remain an aging and unused reminder of the past, Birmingham voters approved bond funds to stabilize about two-thirds of the historic structures in 1977 with a plan to retain it as an important landmark. After extensive sandblasting, painting, landscaping and overall clean up on its 18 acres, Sloss opened its doors to the public in 1983. Today, Sloss is currently “… the only 20th Century blast furnace in the US being preserved and interpreted as an historic industrial site”. Beyond providing insights into a once thriving local industry, the museum celebrates the arts with workshops, festivals and concerts and is nationally known for its metal arts program.
These are just a few of the projects that have been reused, reinvented or repurposed. Such artifacts from our industrial past are like a neglected and friendless animal in a shelter. If you look beyond the dirty, matted hair, apply some major grooming, and approach it with a lot of love and respect, the transformation will “pay it forward” to all of us for years to come. WillScot specializes in providing innovative modular construction solutions. To learn how we’ve helped transform formerly unusable spaces into functional, beautiful environments, check out our featured projects.