Rustbelt insurgency and cultural preservation: how guerrilla practices saved the blast furnaces and the automobile factory

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

URBAN DESIGN International

Publication Date



The cities of the American rustbelt provide a broad canvas for insurgent and guerrilla practices. Copious plots of vacant land and vacant structures of cities that have experienced substantial deindustrialization, property abandonment and population loss offer opportunities to engage with formerly productive or inhabited landscapes, even if these engagements are unsanctioned or illegal. Former industrial complexes have been a particular target of guerrilla actors, yet little is known about how sustained occupation, engagement and creative actions at postindustrial sites impact official, longer-term design practices. Exploring two sites that have long histories of transgressive activity, the Carrie Blast Furnaces in metropolitan Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the Packard Automotive Factory in Detroit, Michigan, this paper examines whether unauthorized actors can be sustained agents of insurgent design that inform or break the trajectory of conventional urban development practices, which typically view vacant industrial sites as “brownfields”—to be cleared, remediated and prepared for eventual private sector development. Chronicling insurgent activities and examining their intersections with local development practices, this study considers the contributions that guerrilla actors have made in the evolving plans for these historic places and assesses the potential for broader change in planning and design practices at large-scale post-industrial sites.




Economic Advancement


Urban Studies and Planning