wired.com – July 3, 2018 | by Jay Walljasper
Ford’s Twin Cities Assembly Plant in St. Paul, Minnesota opened in 1925 to build Model Ts in a state-of-the-art facility powered by a hydroelectric dam on the Mississippi River. At its peak, the factory employed 1,800 well-paid UAW workers in a 2 million-square-foot facility about 7 miles from both downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis. When the last vehicle, a Ranger pickup truck, rolled off its line just before Christmas in 2011, it was Ford Motors’ oldest factory. About 7 million vehicles were built here over 86 years.
The closure left behind an economic hole in St. Paul, and a formidable environmental challenge: The site was laced with residue from decades of automaking—petroleum compounds, paint solvents, lead, and arsenic.
Today, all that remains of the Ford factory is an expansive tract of bare land in the middle of the middle-class Highland Park neighborhood, where a lone smokestack juts up from the old steam plant. The top layer of heavily contaminated dirt has been scraped away and piled up in mounds underneath plastic covers, waiting to be removed. Diesel shovels and other heavy equipment dot the grounds.
But the Ford site is poised for a dramatic rebirth: Over the next 20 years, these 122 acres overlooking the Mississippi River are slated to grow into a dense mixed-use neighborhood designed to be a showpiece of energy efficiency, smart design, ecological stormwater management, and enlightened economic development. Last fall, the St. Paul City Council approved the Ford site master plan, developed by the city’s planning department after an intensive 11-year process. The plan maps out the vision for a transit-accessible community for up to 7,200 residents, an eco-village within the city that boasts a grid of bike- and pedestrian-friendly streets, abundant green space, and jobs for 1,500 workers—almost as many as the old Ford plant had at its height. Twenty percent of the development’s housing will be priced for lower-income residents.
On Monday, the city announced that Ryan Companies—a Minneapolis-based firm which is already at work on a mixed-use pedestrian-oriented project that will create a new city center for Kirkland, Washington—had secured development rights for the site. Construction could begin as early as 2020, according to a timetable from the city.
“This is an opportunity to envision what a 21st-century community is,” says Tom Fisher, director of the Minnesota Design Center and former editor of Progressive Architecture magazine.
The plans gearing up here bear consequences far beyond these two cities: The Ford plan reflects an ambitious vision that unites the techno-solutionist and urbanist wings of the sustainability movement—cutting-edge energy conservation and generation within a walkable urban village—with an additional emphasis on affordable housing and creative-class economic development.