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Europe finds industrial reuse drives tourism

Marc Lefkowitz  |  09/21/09 @ 2:55pm

What are the lessons for Cleveland from Germany's conversion of Rust Belt industrial heritage into clever new uses. Germany marshalled the funds-including millions from the European Cultural Capital-and formed public-private partnerships over 20 years, Michael Schwarze-Rodrian of Metropole Ruhr, a lead agency for the international design competition and redevelopment of massive sites like the coal plant into an arts and office complex at Zollverein, said at today's German Marshall Fund conference in Cleveland.

"Don't be afraid of the size of these big (industrial) sites," he advised. "Think of single sites but link them in a system of industrial heritage. We now have a map where six hundred thousand visitors a year take in all or part of a these industrial 'cathedrals'."

Paul Alsenas, head of Cuyahoga County Planning, sees parallels between Germany's regional vision and the Cuyahoga Valley Initiative (CVI). For the past five years his office has steered the plan to reshape the Cuyahoga Valley into a region for high-tech and ecological regeneration ventures. Since hiring Rocky Mountain Institute to draw up a 'regeneration zone' roadmap, the CVI has been trying to attract industries that benefit from co-locating and sharing resources, even waste by-products.

CVI could learn about branding an industrial heritage corridor from Germany's Ruhr valley or, closer to home, about industrial symbiosis and ecological regeneration from Milwaukee's Menomonee River Valley, a 140-acre site along that city's industrial river channel.

Imbuing vacant land with new green uses is at the heart of the CVI vision. The county is making slow progress. The county and Building Cleveland By Design are days away from securing the land and easements for the C&M Trail, a 1.3 mile bike path along the West Bank of the Flats that will connect Scranton Road Peninsula to just north of Shooters, Alsenas said. One day, it will connect cyclists using the Towpath Trail extension from the national park to Cleveland to travel an action-packed final mile from Scranton to Irishtown Bend to Whiskey Island and a lakefront park. Development in the form of an aquarium at the Powerhouse and a newly revived Flats East Bank is once again heating up in the Flats in anticipation of the Towpath Trail extension and its connector trails. Meanwhile, the county continues to plant 'green bulkheads'-underwater hanging baskets inserted in the crenellations of the steel bulkheads which supply habitat for fish along Cuyahoga River in the Flats with a $1.7 million grant from the feds. They want to build on industrial reuse successes like Ray's Indoor Mountain Bike Park.

Schwarze-Rodrian complimented Cleveland for lighting its bridges in the Flats (during the city's bicentennial celebration). "The illumination tells me you have already discovered the value of your infrastructure."

The key for Germany was breaking the cycle of demolition and rebuilding and see reuse as opportunity. Government rules there help. (Example: The state decided to cease its subsidy for the coal industry which has spurred mining and power companies to target 2080 as the phase out of coal production in the country).

Valentino Castellani, former mayor of Torino, Italy, also shared the story of converting the former Fiat plant into a 240,000 sq. ft. mixed use center. The city tied in plans for the 2006 Winter Olympic Village and new Metro station. The key was creating a strategic vision for land and development at a regional scale, he said, that set industrial site reuse as its priority.

Stay tuned for how to make industrial-scale reuse an economic driver and attractor of young creatives with our reporting from this week's Rust Belt to Artist Belt II conference.

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