Resourceful Perspectives: Valuing Industrial Heritage in Small Towns

Open Access
Bastin, Craig T
Graduate Program:
Master of Architecture
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
June 20, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Lisa Domenica Iulo, Thesis Advisor
  • Industrial Heritage
  • Revitalization
  • Architecture
  • Rust Belt
Comprised of small towns throughout the Midwestern and Northeastern United States, the Rust Belt reveals a marked history of industrialization that initiated a culture defined by the value of an industrial heritage. This thesis examines how small town communities within the Rust Belt can approach revitalization in a manner that values their industrial heritage. Throughout the years, these towns have experienced both functional and physical erosion as a result of the economic changes consequent to the decline of industrial production. These manufacturing locations once offered an ideal setting and much-needed resources that set the stage for industrial forces to shape and reshape the urban fabric of the Rust Belt. In the Rust Belt, specifically along the Monongahela River Valley, industrialization was once a modern concept that represented technological advances and a means of economic progress. The manufacturing industries that succeeded did so through strong ties to their respective communities. This process ultimately created an industrial character that remains steadfast even through altered architectural environments and landscapes. Unfortunately, the towns that once depended on manufacturing industries for a prosperous livelihood are now struggling in the wake of ongoing industrial decline and ever-increasing departure. Their remaining industrial heritage is often a dormant concept conceived by once thriving mills and factories, telling a myriad of invaluable stories which can be viewed and judged from multiple perspectives. Understanding the value of industrial heritage provides a new viewpoint from which to evaluate a community’s local characteristics. From this perspective an Industrial Heritage Mechanism (IHM) was created to evaluate existing local industrial heritage assets of small Mon Valley towns. The mechanism makes use of a streamlined insight into industrial heritage that was developed in the form of specific categories. These defined industrial heritage categories break down the resource in terms of geographic advantages, business clusters, institutions, and unique amenities. The IHM categories define industrial heritage from multiple perspectives allowing a strong basis from which to create town specific assessment profiles. The assessment of small towns through the IHM enables the identification of important industrial heritage features possessing the ability to play a major role in revitalization efforts. This new approach of considering struggling small towns through the lens of industrial heritage is evident at the chosen Mon Valley case study sites of Braddock, Monessen, and Brownsville. The Industrial Heritage Mechanism was formulated to gauge the local assets of these locations and link the complex perception of industrial heritage in concert with town assessments. This will ultimately provide a basis for revitalization strategies, specific to each respective case study town relative to their own industrial heritage. The mechanism’s final product is a town specific profile of local assets leading to the development of revitalization plans that value industrial heritage. In effect, the value of industrial heritage provides a foundational basis for the revitalization efforts of small town Rust Belt communities.