A pioneering Detroit automobile factory. A legendary iron mill at the edge of Pittsburgh. A campus of concrete grain elevators in Buffalo. Two monumental train stations, one in Buffalo, the other in Detroit. These once noble sites have since fallen from their towering grace. As local elected leaders did everything they could to destroy what was left of these places, citizens saw beauty and utility in these industrial ruins and felt compelled to act. Postindustrial DIY: Recovering American Rust Belt Icons (Fordham UP, 2023) tells their story.
The culmination of over a dozen years of on-the-ground investigation, ethnography, and historical analysis, author and urbanist Daniel Campo immerses the reader into this postindustrial landscape, weaving the perspectives of dozens of DIY protagonists as well as architects, planners, and preservationists. Working without capital, expertise, and sometimes permission in a milieu dominated by powerful political and economic interests, these do-it-yourself actors are driven by passion and a sense of civic duty rather than profit or political expediency. They have craftily remade these sites into collective preservation projects and democratic grounds for arts and culture, environmental engagement, regional celebrations, itinerant play, and in-the-moment constructions. Their projects are generating excitement about the prospect of Rust belt life, even as they often remain invisible to the uninformed passerby and fall short of professional preservation or environmental reclamation standards. Demonstrating that there is no such thing as a site that is "too far gone" to save or reuse,
Postindustrial DIY is rich with case studies that demonstrate how great architecture is not simply for the elites or wealthy. The citizen preservationists and urbanists described in this book offer looser, more playful, and often more publicly satisfying alternatives to the development practices that have transformed iconic sites into expensive real estate or a clean slate for the next profitable endeavor. Transcending the disciplinary boundaries of architecture, historic preservation, city planning and landscape architecture, Postindustrial DIY suggests new ways to engage, adapt and preserve architecturally compelling sites and bottom-up strategies for Rustbelt revival.
Stephen Pimpare is a Senior Fellow at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire.