From Employment Land to Makers Society

Julia Spirig

In the last two decades, much effort has been made in our cities to make them more desirable with the aim of introducing mixed uses. The city centers are protected and preserved for their historical value and their importance in collective memory. At the same time, a lot of care and protection is also given to residential areas in order to meet the demands created by an ever-increasing number of residents. In a totally different approach, we are left with industrial areas continuing to be developed according to autonomous policy rooted in private ownership, mainly driven by economic priorities. The lack of rules and long-term strategies make these areas a realm of highly profitable independent interventions, regardless of their impact on residents’ wellbeing and the potential for new forms of diverse neighborhoods. The result is a process lacking urban integration and missing opportunities. To reverse this tendency, we need to cease considering centrally located employment land (be it infrastructures related to industry, transportation or logistics) as at odds with residential neighborhoods.

There is an intense competition for space in our cities. Among all the sectors automatically integrated (from housing to offices to retail), industry is usually left out of the reallocation process. This sector is almost never considered as a major actor in our city centers, and therefore it is hardly ever integrated into the planning projections. This prevents the full spectrum of urban figures from coming together harmonically and excludes the potential of those employment lands from the desired mixed-use ideal. This is due to a lack of growth policy specifically addressing a valuable future for employment land. The lack of interest in dealing with industrial areas is reflected in the government’s unilateral idea of industry. The general consideration focuses on oversized dimensions and monofunctional typologies, orienting their reading towards characteristics that are incompatible with everyday life (such as noise, pollution and typological autonomy).

For this reason, on the one hand, we very often encounter developments of employment land that adhere to a blind logic, leading to unsatisfactory results. On the other hand, it has become a regular occurrence for industrial areas to be pushed to the periphery or exclusively designated for non-specific housing developments. What remains within the urban fabric is a homogeneous repeating condition and a missed opportunity. If we aim to create a wider framework for such conditions, it is worth looking specifically at the case of a broken fabric.

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