A New Economy

February 27, 2008

This is a brief I wrote a few weeks ago for a studio project, the remediation of the Ford Calumet site on the south side of Chicago. It reflects my belief in the handmade movement, and the regeneration of post industrial sites. I decided to post this after reading an article by the editor of Handmade Detroit discussing the possible effects of handmade goods on the poor Midwestern economy, read it here.

“A new economy. Over the past week, we’ve talked a lot about the auto industry, the global economy, and the need for transportation. We’ve talked about these things and how they’ve changed the landscape of America. We’ve talked about the negative effect they have had on the country, the environment, and the constituents of this great country. For too long, big corporations have been abandoning the American people, moving their factories over seas to exploit cheap labor markets, putting hundreds of thousands out of work here in America.

Instead of proposing a conduit for this global economy, and finding a way to further exploit the change in economy by leaching off it’s residual needs, I am proposing we cut against the grain and create a positive change for America. A new economy. based not on blind consumerism, or ridiculously cheap prices, but on well made, quality goods. This economy will not be based on how much a plastic cup can be made for in China, or how much it costs, both the consumer and the environment, to have it shipped 6000 miles. This economy won’t be based on polluting our country, polluting our air, polluting our work force with lack of jobs, disposable lifestyles, and planned obsolescent. This economy will be built for the people, by the people. A phrase stated many times in our great country yet is somehow always pushed aside by the all mighty dollar.

Ford Calumet, a 44,000 acre site in one of America’s most precious ecological corridors, is home to one of the largest automotive plants in America. It may come as no surprise that what used to be a land thriving with wildlife and wilderness has since been turned into a volatile land filled with contamination and plagued with 50 square miles worth of slag, asteel by product so cautiously placed on one of America’s most important ecologies. I’m kidding of course, caution would have been a waste of money… job loss created by closing automotive plants and steel yards has caused a tremendous strain on the local economy and the Calumet region has been in a steady decline for the last decade. Many have moved away to new jobs elsewhere and the remaining unemployed are not financially stable. This in turn takes it’s toll on local businesses as citizens buy less and less as money becomes tighter and tighter.

It’s easy to look at today’s global economy and find ways to fit in and make money off of it. It’s a more ambitious task to look at its shortcoming; it’s problems and propose solutions that will counter these problems. Ford Calumet has a large unemployed population, ecology in shambles, and an increasing number of abandoned structures. The global economy has had such an effect on America because companies are having their products made in China, where people will work for 1/10 of the cost, at an alarming rate. This is great for customers and corporations, who can provide products at a lower price, but it is homicidal to the working people of America. It will be important to look at how we can make things more cost effectively in terms of this project. How can we lower the cost of this project without cutting jobs and hurting the people?

It’s one thing to propose a new economy, but how does this new economy grow out of this 44,000 acre site? The future Ford Calumet will set an example for the rest of the United States. It will become a staple for the new American Economy. It will foster and raise this economy, showing America how we can work together, how to put this country back together again. As unemployment grows, and jobs increasingly require college degrees, the new economy will be built by those who don’t have the means to go to school. The new economy will teach people that you can be successful just by doing what you can, with what you have.

The new Ford Calumet will feature a revolutionary learning center that will teach skilled workers how to teach themselves rather than teaching them new skills to get a minimum wage job in another city. The learning center will focus on helping people learn to do what they want to do. There are millions of resources available on the Internet that can teach you how to do anything you want. By teaching citizens how to access these resources, we are cutting the cost of having teachers and classes to teach simple skills and allowing the number of people we can help to grow. The idea is that there is a growing amount of free information on the internet, rather than reiteration all this information on the form of classes, we’ll simply teach people how to access, and use this information to recreate themselves. The center will include a huge computer lab containing new computers running linux and web 2.0 free apps, thereby tripling the number of computers we can afford, and teaching citizens on a machine they could possibly afford.

With these newly self taught skills, citizens will be able to make things or provide qualities that are new, unique or better constructed than what is available. These new craftsmen will need an outlet so Ford Calumet will also create a market where locals can buy and shop for goods that are handmade, local, and well made. This will include everything from furniture, to objects, to locally grown foods. It will be a mall made of local goods. It will supplement the Learning Center by providing its users a place to start their business.

In addition to the learning center, old buildings on site will be retrofitted to serve as co-op studios where creators can make things and incubate their business. These studios will be low cost and allow for residents to work within the learning environment. This will allow those really in need to excl and immerse them in the learning process.

There will also be a co-op shop where numerous machines will be made available for residents and citizens to use. By providing this service to the community, residents can get their ideas off the ground and eventually afford their own equipment.

Since the remaining site is virtually unusable do to its toxicity, it will be remediate and eventually turned back into the habitat, which it was originally. The center will use all environmental options available to remediate the soil. This new landscape will show that you can take something that is wasted and ugly and turn it into something beautiful.

Area’s that contain large-scale equipment will be turned into recreation parks. Rather than destroying the machinery and sending it to waste, lets admire them and restore them as a form of public art. The large machines will stand as a monument to the history of the site as well as a reminder that though we’ve made mistakes in the past, they can be remedied.”

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