All across the Midwest, cities and suburbs are tackling the problem of Empty Places. Throughout November, Changing Gears took a look at some of the challenges and solutions involved in transforming property from the past.
In Flint, Mich., Kate Davidson found there may be no better example of how the industrial Midwest is changing than the site of the old Fisher Body Plant No. 1. It’s one of the factories that was occupied by sit-down strikers in the 1930s. The plant made tanks during World War II. It was later closed, gutted and reborn as a GM design center. But GM abandoned the site after bankruptcy and the new occupants don’t make cars. They sell very expensive prescription drugs.
In suburban Chicago, Tony Arnold reported that as companies adjust to economic conditions, many in the region have been re-evaluating the basics – including where they’re located. Cities and states bend over backwards to create jobs, and they’re left with some big challenges when a company decides it no longer wants its headquarters there.
For many people, the most threatening emptiness isn’t a shuttered factory. It’s the abandoned property next door. But in Detroit, some residents are using that emptiness to quietly reshape their neighborhoods. They’re annexing vacant lots around them, buying them when they can or just putting up a fence. They’re not squatters, says Davidson, they’re blotters.
There are vacant factories all over the Midwest. But where some people see blight, others see opportunity. One example: a former Chicago meatpacking plant has been transformed into a vertical farm, as Niala Boodhoo discovered.
Barry Van Dyke and his two siblings told us their story of turning Jack’s Liquor Store in Grand Rapids, Mich., into a brewery. As he said to Sarah Alvarez, “Over the last three or four years there has been a huge boom of people re-occupying buildings and putting work into them. It’s great to be a part of that in Grand Rapids. I think the general public sees that, and they are just bending over backwards to be supportive.”
But there’s plenty more work to be done across the Midwest. In fact, there are 3,000 empty buildings alone in Northwest Indiana. Take a look at the work that’s going on there.
Any thoughts on our Empty Places series? Let us know if you’re working to transform an abandoned place in our region.