Manufacturing constitutes a significant portion of the world's total economic activity, and industry occupies large areas of our built environment -- yet, we tend to think about industry in an economic or political context often divorced of spatial or locational considerations. As this exhibit shows, this detachment from the physicality of industry is becoming less and less sustainable. In the coming decades the question will not be whether growth in manufacturing is going to occur, but where.
There is no single answer to what future manufacturing will require, but cities can begin to set the stage and create the right conditions for re-embracing industry in their midst. In doing so, three key challenges can be identified: first, with the rapid growth of biotechnology, internet-related digital media and digital fabrication there is a pervasive confusion regarding terminology (what exactly do we mean when we speak of "industry, "manufacturing" or “production"), second, is the general public's and political leaders' lack of exposure to modern industry (and consequent outdated perceptions about this sort of activity), combined with the lack of a clear strategy to encourage the return of industry to urban sites; third, is the limited and declining supply of urban land zoned for industry in cities.
While economic arguments for urban manufacturing and the policies that support it are maturing, the spatial strategies for supporting manufacturing are either scattered or nonexistent. How does one address the challenges facing industry through spatial solutions? What criteria should guide the development of contemporary urban industrial spatial development? Furthermore, can we use industry as a prime catalyst in retrofitting cities? These questions are crucial in the process for the visioning of the future relationships between production, people and place.
Industrial urbanism offers a chance to embrace production and locate living-wage jobs where people live. It would also bring measurable environmental benefits associated with shortening commutes and reducing the delivery distances between firms. Proximity between firms and facilities could bolster economic clusters’ strength, due to the positive effects of increased knowledge spillover and a robust labor market. As planners attempt to attract manufacturing back to cities, they must consider the potential adaptability of the manufacturing facilities they encourage. As firms grow or shrink, or as technology evolves, there must be sufficient room to accommodate such changes. This, ultimately, is what will ensure the long-term viability of urban industry.
Today, urban manufacturing requires a different approach that recognizes people as a vital factor in the competitive advantage of cities. Instead of single-use industrial parks and stand-alone factories, industrial urbanism encourages the confluence of users and activities that create vibrant economic clusters. The new industrial urbanism shouldre-introduce human-centered design to manufacturing facilities.
Places of production are often defined and controlled by the same regulatory mechanisms as were used almost 100 years ago. Cities continue to reduce the supply of industrial land through rezoning. As a result, the availability of urban land suitable for the kind of buildings and operations-intensive activities characteristic of manufacturing is shrinking. As demand for industrial space increases, planners and policy makers will need to consider infill sites wherever possible. As an added benefit, by focusing on the reuse of existing urban industrial land, outward sprawl can be avoided, along with its associated drawbacks of longer commutes and reduction of natural habitats.
In a society widely perceived as being “post-industrial”, it is essential to educate the public about manufacturing processes. This general awareness – a true consciousness-raising – is necessary if we are to dispel lingering misconceptions that view industry as always unsafe and polluting and instead, present manufacturing as an appropriate and even desirable activity within the city. When industrial processes were most noxious, factories moved out of the city and into windowless boxes; the animosity was mutual: manufacturers were as content to shut the public out as the public was to banish them from downtowns. This attitude must be altered if industry is to be welcomed back, to re-assume its role as a good (and productive) urban citizen. Transparency in industrial spaces is a proven concept to enhance marketability of cities and factories. Those manufacturers who take pride in their work will enable the public to share in that fulfillment.
It is time to look at manufacturing with fresh eyes, to rekindle the attraction it once held for people who cared about cities, and to re-think and re-imagine industrial urbanism. This will be a major task for designers, planners, and policy makers in the years ahead, but it is one that is sure to bear fruit and lead to better place making.
It is time to look at manufacturing with fresh eyes, to rekindle the attraction it once held for people who cared about cities, and to re-think and re-imagine industrial urbanism. This will be a major task for designers, planners, and policy makers in the years ahead, but it is one that is sure to bear fruit and lead to better place making
 See: Made in San Francisco. Report to the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor. Back Streets Businesses Advisory Board, City of San Francisco, 2007.