Urban Shrinkage, Industrial Renewal and Automotive Plants
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Urban Shrinkage, Industrial Renewal and Automotive Plants

Andreas Luescher, Sujata Shetty

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Urban Shrinkage, Industrial Renewal and Automotive Plants

Andreas Luescher, Sujata Shetty

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About This Book

This book focuses on the relationship between the auto industry and the built environment at multiple scales, a topic of particular interest now as the industry is going through a period of major transformation. Drawing from multiple perspectives, including architecture, urban design and urban planning, the authors examine the changing form of the auto factory itself, the changing geography of auto production, and the challenges faced by communities as the auto plants that once brought them prosperity, and often a sense of identity, leave town. They examine four places that are dealing in different ways, and with varying success, with the aftermath of a decommissioned auto plant in their midst. These are Janesville, Wisconsin, and Willow Run, Michigan, in the U.S., and Bochum, Germany, and Genk, Belgium, in Europe. Together these four cases provide some clues about what the future might look like for places that were once intimately connected with the manufacture of cars.

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© The Author(s) 2019
Andreas Luescher and Sujata ShettyUrban Shrinkage, Industrial Renewal and Automotive Plantshttps://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-03380-4_1
Begin Abstract

1. Introduction

Andreas Luescher1 and Sujata Shetty2
College of Technology, Architecture and Applied Engineering, Department of Architecture and Environmental Design, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH, USA
Jack Ford Urban Affairs Center, Department of Geography and Planning, The University of Toledo, Toledo, OH, USA
Andreas Luescher


This chapter outlines the development of the Fordist model at the beginning of the last century and its role in shaping the urban landscape. We first highlight the influence of the automobile on the form of the American city. We then briefly describe the evolution of the auto industry itself, setting the stage to examine the relationship between automotive production and the built environment in subsequent chapters. We summarize the contents of the five chapters that follow, which, taken together, tell the interlocking stories of the automobile and the built environment at multiple scales.


AutomobileModel-TAutomobile industry
End Abstract
The spatial layout of American cities underwent one of its most profound periods of rearrangement during the nineteenth century as the Industrial Revolution moved work from home to factories and, in a shift from the era of craft production, separated workers physically from their places of work. As coal-fired production polluted city air and the waste created by factories was easily dumped close to the factories themselves, city life became less healthy and less appealing. Yet the factories attracted workers, including poor immigrants, which led to increasingly dense cities. Workers and families lived in crowded conditions in unsafe tenement buildings, on streets often filled with garbage, horse manure, and the city’s waste. Residents had little access to fresh air or open space. Those who could moved away. As modes of urban transportation developed, the outward movement of the more affluent continued along linear routes, following horse-drawn carriages, streetcars, and electric trolleys. Cities spread out as the radius of a half-hour commute to the center of the city expanded, adding to a pattern of suburbanization and differentiation. The urban landscape was being shaped by the “transportation revolution and the erosion of the walking city” (Jackson 1985).

1.1 The Advent of the Automobile

The introduction of the automobile quickened the pace of this transformation. Henry Ford’s revolutionary Model T , introduced to the American public in 1908, was well designed, reliable, and affordable, not least because of the manufacturing innovations that allowed the vehicle to be produced on an assembly line. A moving conveyer belt with each worker along the line performing a single, repetitive task allowed automobiles to be assembled efficiently. These first assembly lines could not accommodate many variations—Ford reportedly said that consumers could have their Model T in any color as long as it was black—but they did keep prices low. Standardized and interchangeable components, precision engineering, and synchronized assembly were the hallmarks of this innovation.
Although he was not the only innovator in the industry, Ford’s influence was unmatched. Of the Model T, he said, “I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces” (Ford and Crowther 1922, p. 73).
Sales took off. From 1908 to 1909, over 10,000 cars, built in the Piquette Plant in Detroit , were sold. Ford foresaw rising demand and acquired 60 acres in Highland Park, near Detroit , to build a new factory. He raised prices on his cars to cover these additional costs and, in 1909–1910, sold 18,664 cars. Once the new factory starting production, he was able to cut prices, selling 34,528 cars from 1910 to 1911.
That is the beginning of the steady reduction in the price of the cars in the face of ever-increasing cost of materials and ever-higher wages. Contrast the year 1908 with the year 1911. The factory space increased from 2.65 to 32 acres. The average number of employees from 1,908 to 4,110, and the cars built from a little over six thousand to nearly thirty-five thousand. You will note that men were not employed in proportion to the output. (Ford and Crowther 1922, p. 74)
Ford and his competitors did indeed make automobile ownership accessible to a vast middle class. In the years between the wars, technological advances made cars more powerful, and a growing road network expanded the boundaries of private automobile transportation. Better cars and roads beget even more private car ownership and made driving easier (Wells 2013), eventually allowing the increasing numbers of automobile owners to organize their physical environments and activities around car ownership.
It was not just car owners but also a number of other interrelated factors that helped create the infrastructure to support automobile transportation. Following World War II, a large number of young soldiers returned, ready to settle down and buy homes. At the same time, modular construction made home building quicker and easier, and federal mortgage loan guarantee programs promoted homeownership. Perhaps most critically, the passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act under President Eisenhower in 1956 authorized the design and construction of 41,000 miles of interconnected highways across the country. It was this policy, combined with industrial decentralization, that most contributed to the unintended consequence of large-scale suburbanization and influenced the shape of the present-day American city (Fishman 2005; Shetty and Luescher 2016).
As automobile driving became easier, cheaper, and more widespread, the American landscape itself transformed to become more hospitable to this mode of travel. Suburban subdivisions in the image of Levittowns, regional malls, roadside motels, and drive-through banks and fast-food restaurants were all land uses and building types that arose from an automobile -centric society. The car made it possible to greatly enlarge the radius of everyday activities and allowed people to spread themselves more widely across the landscape. More people than ever were now able to easily access the countryside—green space, fresh air, outdoor recreation, nature itself. Ironically, these parkways to the country, much like Robert Moses’ Long Island Parkway, became the arteries along which development occurred.

1.2 The Evolution of the Auto Industry

The idea of mass production of automobiles began to spread. In the USA, Buick, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Oakland, and several other smaller firms came together to form the General Motors Company in 1908. Combining these allowed GM to control the manufacture and supply of parts as well as build a wider variety of models. It took some time for mass production to take hold in Europe. In Britain, Morris Motors started by importing parts from the USA, but World War I intervened. At the end of World War I, Ford had plants not only in the USA but also throughout the world, dominating the industry. GM was its only major competitor.
The decade of the 1920s reshaped the industry. After a slump following the little-known Depression of 1920–1921, GM came emerged as the largest and most successful, followed by Ford. A few years later, Ford, after closing production for 18 months as it switched from the Model T to the Model A, ceded ground to Chrysler (formed by the reorganization of the Maxwell Motor Company and later the acquisition of the Dodge Brothers Company). Thus, began the Big Three. By the beginning of the Depression, these Big Three companies had three-fourths of the American car market.
The ensuing Depression eliminated the smaller manufacturers and increased the market share of the Big Three. At the same time, production fell from about five million cars in 1929 to just over one million in 1932. Production rose slowly but did not reach previous highs before World War II hit.
There was a parallel evolution in Europe, though at a much smaller scale. In 1929, British production stood at 239,000, and the equivalent Big Three (Austin, Morris, and Singer) had three-quarters of the market. Unlike the same period in the USA, however, the 1930s in Europe were a period of growth. At the end of the 1930s, there were three additional major car manufacturers, Roots, Ford, and Vauxhall (a GM subsidiary). In the 1920s and 1930s, France was dominated by four car companies, Citroen, Renault, Peugeot, and Simca. Daimler, Benz, and Volkswagen had a presence in the German market, which General Motors entered by acquiring Opel. The German car industry was hit hard by World War I and took time to recover. Italy’s auto industry at this time was specialized and small.
The auto industry was pressed into service during World War II. In the USA, automotive firms were responsible for about 20% of the country’s military production, including trucks, tanks, guns, and bombs. The British built shadow factories close to existing auto factories, which were pressed into service to manufacture military equipment when needed, drawing on the expertise of the auto industry. Ford and Volkswagen in Germany and Renault in France were similarly pressed into war production.
The post-war years have been a time of tremendous change in the industry. Production has increased exponentially, but it is no longer concentrated in the USA. In 2017, China was the largest producer of cars, responsible for 29% of the world’s production, followed by the EU at 20%, and Japan and the USA at about 10% each, although the USA built about a million fewer cars in 2017 than in 2016 (ACEA 2018). While there will still be demand in the old triad of North America, Europe, and Japan for vehicles in the field of new mobility (e.g., car-sharing or ride-hailing), for premium vehicles and small vehicles (such as subcompacts and microcars), production in Europe and the USA appears to be reaching capacity. However, emerging markets’ share of global sales is expected to rise from 50% in 2012 to 60% by 2020. The location of auto-production facilities does not currently align with these growing markets (McKinsey & Company 2013), but huge investments and increases in production are expected in coming years, especially in the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India, and China (Bentley et al. 2013; Gao et al. 2014). New auto factories will be built in these regions of the world even as factories in old industrial regions continue to close.
While there is an extensive literature on industrial architecture including automotive factories, the consequences of these large factories’ heavy imprints on the landscape, especially as they stop production, have been far less discussed in design and planning scholarship. The need to address this issue grows increasingly urgent as automotive plants continue to close. In 2017, Australia joined Saudi Arabia as the only G20 economy without a major auto plant. Since 2004, the Big Three—General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler—have closed 22 major auto plants in the USA, and only eight of these have found buyers. The Big Three and their largest suppliers have closed 128 manufacturing plants in North America since 1980, most of which are still vacant (Brugeman et al. 2011).

1.3 Outline of the Book

In the coming chapters, we shift across various scales, from the design of the individual auto factory to the spatial distribution of plants across the world, highlighting the interlocking stories of these factories and the communities of which they were a part. Chapter 2 draws attention to the complex relationship between the restructuring of the automotive industry and the physical restructuring that occurs at multiple scales. We examine the relationship between automotive manufacturing that has dispersed across the world in the last few decades and the once-thriving industrial belts now in decline, the so-called rustbelts dotted with “shrinking cities.” We then scale down, focusing on the evolving form of the factory itse...

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