The City Space

Cultivating Urban Understanding


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Old is New: Inside a Brewery Turned Office Park

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Few urban features make my heart beat faster than a really well-done repurposement project. It’s not so much because I like old-style buildings (although I do), but because I value the positive environmental, cultural and social impact that repurposement has on cities. By transforming a former factory, church, or even gas station* into a new space you cut down on the amount of materials that you would normally need to create a completely new building and you often also undergo the important process of getting an old, potentially dangerous or toxic building up to health and safety codes. Renovation can also preserve iconic spaces and the designs of generations past. This is particularly valuable since historic methods of building often create more lasting, resilient structures which can still benefit us today. Finally, renovation is an important method for creating value and vibrance in an area that might previously have been empty or abandoned.

Thankfully, warehouses transformed into condos or offices are practically a normal feature in most American cities nowadays. Drive through any historic downtown and you’ll find trendy lofts built inside old printing presses or granaries. But there’s so much more you can do with an old building no longer being used for its original purpose. I shared some ideas in this post regarding an empty community center/church down the block from my apartment. The sky (or ceiling) is really the limit when it comes to transforming historic spaces. I’ve seen homes inside old churches, accordion shops inside old White Castles, and elementary schools inside old strip malls.

I want to share a particularly beautiful and well executed repurposement project today. Milwaukee has been the “Brew City” for more than 150 years. Many famous, global beers like Miller, Schlitz and Pabst Blue Ribbon got their start here, paving the way for many more craft breweries to dominate the scene today (including Lakefront, Milwaukee Brewing Company and more). While a few of the large beer producers still have their headquarters here, most have moved on to bigger facilities or transferred ownership, leaving large factories behind. In other cities, perhaps these factories would be knocked down or left to become gigantic racoon palaces, but not here.

When the Schlitz factory closed its doors in 1982 after being sold to the Stroh Brewing Company, a decision had to be made. Wanting to preserve this historic structure but undoubtedly struggling with how to convert such a massive space (40 acres) into something functional, developers eventually settled on an office park to fill the campus anew. Continue reading


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A Recipe for Success

Brady Street 2015

Milwaukee, WI has made more frequent appearances on this blog, now that I live here, but usually I write about it in something of a critical light. I walk its streets every day, so I see the good and bad that goes on here, and it’s usually more productive to write about the bad, and constructively brainstorm ways to make it better. However, today I want to talk about Milwaukee in a wholly positive light.

Brady Street Milwaukee

I’m going to talk about one specific street here—Brady Street—because I think it is a fantastic model for a thriving, positive neighborhood street. Brady Street is one block from my house and it serves as a commercial anchor for the East Side of Milwaukee. The businesses here range from a hardware store to an STD clinic, from a Waldorf school to a Catholic church, from a Mediterranean nightclub to a popular sushi café, and from a dingy sports bar to one of the best wine bars in the city. It would take days to explore every storefront on this lively avenue. The street runs parallel to the river and it’s tucked in something of a residential area, yet it’s a busy, bustling thoroughfare with so much to offer. This is due to several important factors that I hope to see in more neighborhoods around the country: Continue reading


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The Mysterious Building Down the Block

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This photograph was taken a block from my apartment in Milwaukee, WI. It contains a mysterious, abandoned building that I have been wondering about since the day I moved in. Last weekend, I decided to do some digging and find out the story behind 1640 N Franklin Place. Continue reading


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Around the Block – Links from the Week 9/19/14

Around the Block - Links from the Week

I think it’s time for some links. On my radar this week:

  • First, a simple article about new businesses who moved in and didn’t gentrify, but did improve their neighborhood. Glad to see that it’s possible to do that.
  • Next, a quick rundown of “6 Cities Taking a Lead on Solving Homelessness.” Lots of creative, constructive ideas here.
  • From my hometown of Minneapolis, some exciting news that the city council in a nearby suburb of Edina approved the transformation of an old building into apartments for homeless youth! This is a huge step in the right direction, and I hope something we will see more of in other places, because youth homelessness is a major issue in our nation.
  • For a longer read: This New Yorker article, “Paper Palaces,” came out last month but my mom just showed it to me. It’s a breathtaking delve into a unique architect who builds functional, often portable shelters, schools, museums and more, around the world.
  • This one’s also from last month, but it may not have reached you yet: The United Sweets of America, a dessert for every state in the country. Find yours and tell me if you think it makes sense. All the ones I investigated seemed pretty spot-on. (For instance: Wisconsin’s dessert is “kringle” And that reminds me, I haven’t had any since I moved here yet!)
  • Finally, I recently added some new links to my Favorite Sites page, gleaned from the Strong Towns National Gathering last weekend. Some seriously top-notch people doing good work around the country.

Alright folks, don’t forget to follow the action on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Have a phenomenal weekend!


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What Makes a Building Work?

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One of the shops down the street from me is getting a new façade. The place is boarded up right now, but every day I see construction workers hammering and sawing away inside, giving the building what promises to be a refurbished appearance in a few weeks. I don’t think about architecture very often, yet a project like this gives me pause. It’s the same feeling I get when I stumble across a particularly stunning structure in the middle of the city—a feeling of wonder and curiosity about that decisions that go into the creation of that building. It causes me to consider: what makes a building work?

With such a diversity of architecture in our cities—from hundred-year-old schoolhouses to drab apartment complexes to shiny, new stadiums—I’m struggling with how to best tackle this question, so I think I’ll approach it from the opposite angle first: What indicators can we find that a building isn’t working? Sometimes we recognize instinctually that we don’t like a particular building, from the outside. Perhaps it dominates the street in an overbearing, shadowy manner, or its architecture is so jarring as to be ugly. Or maybe we notice the opposite: It’s a building that seems aged—and not in the charming, historic sense but in the broken-down, outdated, dusty sense. From the interior, we can also perceive the dysfunctionality of a structure. Take, for example, the office buildings that I’m sure we’ve all spent too much time in—the ones located in office parks on the edge of town. As soon as you walk in, you’re met with dark wood or glass paneling, misplaced tropical plants and some strange, awkward piece of artwork. Besides the plants, everything is basically the same color and seems to be arranged in such a way as to make you more depressed with every step, never offering the eyes anything pleasant or attractive to land on. You ride the lonely, claustrophobic elevator up to the eleventh floor where you find bland, carpeted hallways and the ever-present hum of an HVAC system—perfectly mirroring the hallways on every other floor. This building is boring, dreary and monotone. It was built forty years ago for businessmen in maroon suits and it has little relevance now. Continue reading


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Guerrilla Urbanism: Vandalism or Activism?

from tcsidewalks.blogspot.com

from tcsidewalks.blogspot.com

My friend Jay recently asked me to do a post about guerrilla urbanism, specifically whether it is a form of selfish vandalism or community-supportive activism. This is a topic that fascinates me so I hope I can pass on some of that excitement to you. First, a crash course in guerrilla urbanism. The guerrilla urbanism movement initiates renovation in public spaces to improve cities and invite public discussion about the ways our cities have been constructed, especially in the areas of transportation and walkability. It is not a bounded movement but rather a series of ideas that are being implemented all over the world, often as a quick way to test more permanent developments within cities. These ideas include:

“Open streets” wherein roadways are reclaimed for temporary (and sometimes permanent) pedestrian use.

from bikewalkmontana.com

Bike lanes painted by residents of a city without permission from the government.

“Pop-up shops” wherein entrepreneurs build stands or utilize vacant buildings to sell their wares for a short amount of time (a day or a week). Continue reading