Sunday, November 4, 2007

Week of Nov 2-7: Adaptive Reuse Proposal

Admittedly, economic development is not one of my strong points, so this blog is quite difficult for me to write. Nevertheless, here are some of the ideas and examples that I took away from this week’s readings.

In this age of globalization, the idea of community based economic development might prove difficult to promote. Not only do large, trans-national corporations place sustainability on the back burner as they make decisions about expansion and involvement in the global market, but local businesses as a whole also appear to place more emphasis on short-term economic growth than on long-term improvements to society as a whole. Although this week’s readings provide many examples of companies and localities who have managed to integrate economic growth with sustainable practices, I do not necessarily believe that most companies are ready or willing to adopt such practices. Being inexperienced with economic development, I still have many questions. Specifically, if green development is truly as affordable and accessible as many claim, then why don’t more companies pursue it? Moreover, can such practices (which emphasize local production and consumption) truly find success in a globalized market, or will they simply fizzle out as capitalist enterprises gobble up the globe searching for the next available and exploitable source of capital and labor? Keeping these questions at the back of my mind, I will discuss one eco-friendly economic development scheme that I found particularly interesting.

On page 184, Beatley begins an interesting discussion about landscape recycling and adaptive reuse. He focuses his energy on the Emscher Park International Building Exhibition in northwestern Germany. This complex managed to convert an industrial brownfield into a vibrant mixed-use community. Once a wasteland, the site now boasts a wide range of facilities including artist studios, a museum, public bike paths/parks, and private residences. By cleverly reusing the land, Emscher Park minimizes its ecological footprint by slowing urban sprawl, reducing pollution emissions, and bringing community members together. At the same time, the development has jumpstarted economic development in a once decayed region. Perhaps there are several things that we can learn from such development here in Ithaca.

Reflecting upon Connect Ithaca’s PRT plan, I remember that we discussed the possibility of a mixed use development installation next to the Gun Hill apartment complex. If we were to retrofit the old factory for some sort of new use, then we could accomplish many of the same things that were accomplished at Emscher Park. In fact, our site might prove even more environmentally friendly than Emscher Park because it will be linked to a sustainable mass transit line that services all of Ithaca. We could certainly use this site creatively to improve quality of life and promote economic development within Ithaca. For example, we might provide cheap studio space for local entrepreneurs and artists who desire to start a business or open a gallery. We could also supplement this commercial development with more cultural enterprises—perhaps a museum that celebrates local history or some sort of public park that encourages community interaction (though neither of these two things would necessarily generate revenues).

Though creative, I understand that this scheme poses many logistical challenges. For example, development of this sort, especially if we seek to preserve the factory and minimize our ecological footprint, is very expensive. Moreover, the site is already highly contested within local government. Not only do residents and officials desire to preserve the view of Cayuga Lake, but I believe that environmental impact studies have found toxins of some sort within the factory or perhaps integrated into the soil. Such toxins would be incredibly expensive to remove. So even if adaptive reuse of the site will yield positive returns in the long run (which I'm not sure that it would) it will be incredibly difficult to sell this proposal to local residents and officials.

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