Economic

Industrial architectural icons of St. Louis

St. Louis has more than its magnificent Gateway Arch to showcase the city’s rich industrial and economic past. During my recent visit, I caught a few of the city’s most iconic structures: the old Falstaff Beer plant in North St. Louis, the Union Electric Company energy plant in the city’s industrial riverfront, and the massive grain silo facility in central St. Louis, now owned by the Ray-Carroll County Grain Growers Inc. cooperative.

Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.

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God has left Detroit

In April, I spent a couple of eye-opening days in my home town, Detroit. I was born here. My grandparents lived here for decades. My biological family (I am adopted) grew up here on my birth mother’s side. I only lived here a year, before my adoptive parents left in 1966, a year before the deadly race riots of 1967, one of several that have spanned more than 120 years.

Photographers who parachute into Detroit, like me, are rightfully accused of being disaster voyeurs. Photographing Detroit is now its own photo genre many dub “ruin porn.” Taking pictures of a dying place, where real people are struggling just to survive, is by definition schadenfreude.

I guess I have a saving grace. I am a native son. I really was born in a hospital here. My family, on my birth mother’s side, has true Detroit roots, and for that reason I feel a strong attachment.

I wrote a short essay about my trip in April, and I find myself feeling deeply unsettled now about how the last eight years of our Great Recession have been handled and the wars that preceded it. Going to Detroit you cannot ignore the massive impact of trade policies like NAFTA and the globalization of manufacturing in the years before and after its signing, when the United States began to export its manufacturing jobs overseas.

Jeez, here we are the wealthiest country on earth, and yet we let our great industrial center literally collapse before us, all while venturing overseas to preserve our strategic interests. We all watched and let the patient wither in agony, at times laughing at the patient’s demise. Today the lethal court clown of a city titillates us with reality TV that delights in the destruction of Detroit and the goofy exploits of its charismatic preachers, reality star cops, and wacky urban survivalists.

The Brooklyn intermodal rail yard, still chugging and causing a fuss

For more than a year in my 20s, I lived within a half mile of this large track of industrial land in southeast Portland, now run by the Union Pacific Corp. The yard itself dates to 1860s, and today serves as a Union Pacific transfer point, where cargo is either moved from rail cars to trucks for local distribution or vice versa to the rail system.

A huge fight broke out in the 1950s between the rail yard owners and neighbors in the Eastmoreland and Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhoods. A more than five-decades long injunction limiting some rail yard activity was lifted in 2012, and the Union Pacific moved forward with a planned upgrade worth $75 million. However, pollution by the yard is being monitored with the help from nearby Reed College. In 2014, the head of the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association bought a drone to monitor activity at the yard. The association represents the upscale subdivision in southeast Portland that is next to the rail yard. I guess it remains, trust but verify in my part of this city. Seriously, a neighborhood association is now using a drone to promote its interests against a major U.S. corporation.

Under the off-ramp, eastside Portland

This is the underside to one of the Interstate 5 off-ramps on the eastside of Portland. Many homeless residents stake out spaces here to escape the rain and camp, like you see in the distance here. Warehouse businesses are found here, along with produce distributors and other enterprises that need cheap land for rent. This is also known as the Central Eastside Industrial District. I have known this place for decades. Today many services for the homeless and mentally ill can be found just of Highway 99 and Martin Luther King Drive. There is now talk about how this section of town may be redeveloped. Change is inevitable, and Portland is seeing this all along its riverfront. (Click on the photo to see a larger photograph on a separate picture page.)

Cement kiln, southeast Portland

The Lehigh Northwest Cement Co. is located near the large railroad yard in the industrial area of southeast Portland. I always have liked living near railroad yards. They are reminders of what keeps our country’s economic engine moving, and cement producers are always likely neighbors. To me they are strong icons of our industrial economy and fall into the category of photography I embrace focussing on industrial typologies. (Click on the photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)