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Despite these apparent benefits, scholars note that globalization may present certain risks to industry as well.[3] The opening of international trade and communications threatens copyrighted content, trade secrets, and other proprietary information; even more troublesome and less obvious, there is a danger that as companies shift production abroad, their capacity to continue to innovate may be diminished, as they give up crucial opportunities for learning in the development process.[4] This state of affairs was predicted in 1987 by Stephen Cohen and John Zysman, who argued that the movement towards post-industrialism is shortsighted, as it produces a one-dimensional service-based economy that will lose its ability to innovate. Their argument is at the core of today’s re-shoring movement:








Manufacturing drove the emergence of cities during the Industrial Revolution, as companies located there to be closer to labor, transportation networks, and markets.  More recently, with the advent of the automobile and truck transport (and their related infrastructure), this process has been inverted: sites outside the urban center have become more attractive and feasible, and uses requiring more space (and land) for their operations have relocated or expanded away from traditional downtowns.[1]


In addition to the technological and market forces that pushed manufacturing outside of the urban core, firms in the developed countries are facing both the challenges and opportunities of globalized markets. Industry and commerce are being reshaped by digital technologies and flexible borders that foster the flow of ideas, goods, and services; reduce barriers to international partnerships; and streamline the application of innovation in production and trade.[2]





“A flight offshore for cheap labor will not provide a winning long-term strategy; after a few rounds of product and process innovation it will just compound the problem. A strategy of trying to hold onto the high-value-added activities while subcontracting production to foreign producers who have a manufacturing edge defines the fast track to disaster.”[5]




Today, due to these changing dynamics, as well as rising labor and transportation costs, domestic production is making a comeback in the (apparently mislabeled) “post-industrial” nations. Political leaders now embrace these reports, paying special attention to the potential of skilled, living-wage employment opportunities: for example, President Obama made manufacturing one of the central tenets of his economic recovery plan, addressing the relationship between cities and industry:





"What’s happening in Detroit can happen in other industries  . . . We can’t bring every job back that’s left our shore. But right now, it’s getting more expensive to do business in places like China. Meanwhile, America is more productive . . . So we have a huge opportunity, at this moment, to bring manufacturing back. But we have to seize it." [6]





Seizing this opportunity has important implications for cities, which stand to benefit from new investments and increased employment opportunities. However, a consideration of urban physical spaces and social realities is missing from many of these manufacturing-related reports and policy recommendations. Turning to the question of space, we see a troubling trend in the practices of post-industrial planning that have led to the abandonment of urban industrial land in Western cities. In some cases, vacant or underutilized factories and warehouses are converted to non-industrial uses, such as loft apartments or live/work space for artists; in others, former manufacturing sites are razed to make way for new residential and commercial districts. The irregular industrial spaces that remain as a result of these two processes are often insufficient to accommodate large or unique building footprints.  And surprisingly, the surviving industrial land is quite expensive, relative to suburban and rural sites.


While cities are being presented with opportunities for revitalization and job creation, planning and economic development strategies must also address design and spatial considerations. 




Does manufacturing still have a place in cities? Does contemporary manufacturing have the same spatial needs as in the past? Should they be subject to the same rules and zoning regulations? Will the general public embrace the return of industry and manufacturing to the core of its city?




[1] National Council for Urban Economic Development. Urban Manufacturing: Dilemma or Opportunity? Washington, DC: , 1993., 1.

[2] MIT Taskforce on Innovation and Production. A Preview of the MIT Production in the Innovation Economy Report, Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2013. p. 11-12. 

[3] Though most of the reports focus on the U.S., all of them are comparative, showing how economies such as China, India and Indonesia have risen into the top ranks of global manufacturing (competing with the US, Germany, Japan, France and Italy) and in the world's 15 top manufacturing economies, the sector contributes from 10 to 33 percent of value added. See, for example, Atkinson, Robert D., Stewart, Luke A., Andes, Scott M. and Ezell, Stephen J. Worse than the Great Depression: What Experts Are Missing About American Manufacturing Decline. ITIF, 2012; McKinsey Global Institute. Manufacturing the Future: The Next Era of Global Growth and Innovation, 2012; Pisano, G., Willy S., Producing prosperity: why America needs a manufacturing renaissance. Harvard Business Review Press, 2012; Pisano, G., P., Willy S. Restoring American Competitiveness, Harvard Business Review, 2009.

[4] Ibid. 

[5] Cohen, S. S., Manufacturing Matters: The Myth of the Post-Industrial Economy. New York: Basic Books, 1987.

[6] United States President Barack Obama 2012 State of the Union

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