In New York City a decline in manufacturing has propelled social and economic changes that have transformed certain districts [ 1, 2]. Unused building stock there has been the basis for adaptive reuse yielding new housing for families of varying compositions. The constant pressure of the need for affordable housing has resulted in the conversion of existing abandoned industrial structures, providing a green, environmentally friendly alternative to new construction [ 3, 4, 5]. Adaptive reuse provides an opportunity to bring a building up to current codes, to make the layout and building systems more appropriate and efficient, and to help revitalize neighborhoods.
The nineteenth through the middle of the twentieth centuries were characterized by urban environments which provided manufacturing jobs and the municipal services and education that supported them [ 6]. American cities such as Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh became boom-towns as people followed employment opportunities and moved to these locations throughout this period [ 7, 8, 9]. In the decades after World War II, the creation of highways and freeways–including the interstate highway system that stretched east to west and north to south–led to suburbanization, exemplified by Long Island's mushrooming Levittown and many more like it [ 5, 10]. These were the Baby Boom years. The suburban sprawl ultimately resulted in the creation of mega cities like New York City. Families typically consisted of a father, mother, and at least two children [ 16]. This trend was supported by strong manufacturing industries and plentiful space that allowed much of the population to fulfill the American dream of home ownership [ 2, 11].
As labor cost increased due to stricter labor laws, unions, increasing land cost, and higher taxes, many manufacturers began a search for less costly environments, moving first to locations in the less expensive suburbs and then to the South [ 4, 8]. Eventually, American factories moved overseas to places such as China, other Asian countries, and South America. This became known as out sourcing manufacturing [ 6, 7, 12]. With the subsequent boom town collapse that began in the 1980s and continued through the new millennium, old U.S. industrial cities faced declining populations, and Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and their like were soon deserted by those who could no longer find employment there [ 14, 40]. City populations decreased by as much as 50% and in some places even more steeply [ 13]. According to the U.S. Census (figure 1) [ 13, 14], among American cities only New York City's and Los Angeles's populations have grown since the 1980s. Migration for employment opportunities became common and members per household, and households of one or two became not uncommon [ 15, 16]. Typical housing no longer required a big space for shelter and a lawn or garden, and many people looked for smaller units [ 11, 16]. Smaller working spaces made micro-scale businesses possible. New York City is an example of this change. Left with abandoned super block manufacturing buildings such as the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Brooklyn Army Terminal and retired infrastructure, New York City has looked for ways to repurpose these structures [ 10, 17]. Super block, old manufacturing buildings and factories still stand, but in New York and elsewhere some have become mixed-use spaces.
The goal of this paper is to examine how New York City served the public by providing working and living space through the conversion of existing super block buildings and creating new public spaces out of under-used or abandoned infrastructure. Comparative case studies are conducted focusing on the microscale movement and renewed use of old infrastructure. It considers a future model for sub-divided building spaces and repurposed structures providing shared, public venues as it analyzes this movement structurally and the changes it has wrought on local communities.