Seeking new pathways for industrial site conversion

Abandoned industrial areas are probably the most prominent sign for a structural change in a region. Revitalising those regions has thus not only an economic effect – but also a psychological effect for the local population and a huge impact on local communities. But what opportunities are there for revitalising post-industrial areas and what are the challenges and struggles region’s face in making the shift?

Replacing heavy industry by other industries or businesses is one way to use abandoned industrial areas, however, there is a variety of other pathways to choose from.

Types of site conversions with economic value can encompass a transition from ..

.. industry to industry,

.. industry to research,

.. industry to business or services,

.. industry to tourism.

Depending on the type of conversion, challenges such as contaminated soils, difficulties attracting investors or cooperating with new stakeholders with different interestscan occur. But the main challenge from a climate protection perspective is the transition from a former heavy industrial area to a low-carbon industrial area. Oftentimes, environmental aspects are falling behind economic aspects and there exists no monitoring of industrial site conversions in terms of a low-carbon transition. In fact, there may be a perceived misconception of former industrial sites being not economically attractive or competitive for a region.

Old industrial sites, areas which lost their former production, transport or infrastructural functions and brownfields in urban structure of the cities, possess a strong development potential. Moreover, they often hold important historical and cultural values but in many cases also environmental burdens at the same time.

Many examples of successful conversions do exist from regions all over the world – exhibiting both social benefits and environmental gains. The benefits of revitalising or regenerating former industrial areas and brownfields to greenspaces can reach from the provision of space for play and recreation in urban environment to the establishment of new industrial sectors, from improving healthy urban environments to raising property values, from habitats for wildlife to fostering adaptation to climate change.

Structural change due to the phase-out of coal mining or the decline of heavy-industry is causing a growing number of post-industrial areas – leading to vacant heavy-industry plants (e.g. steelworks, cement mills) but also mining areas where exploitation of minerals has been stopped. A common practice with post-industrial areas located near towns or in towns’ centres is to plot out these grounds and put them on sale for smaller private entities. Usually, such measures don’t entail a future vision or a regeneration concept for the area. The question is, therefore, how the land can be used in a way that it ensures future economic prosperity and brings in new innovation potential for a low carbon economy.

Within the next weeks we will share a variety of case studies and best practice examples of industrial site conversion projects from all over Europe with you – taking into account the original challenge, explaining how it got tackled and which role different actors took in the decision making processes. Stay tuned and check our website regularly to learn more about new pathways to revitalise your region’s post-industrial sites.