Friday Dec 10, 2021

Episode 19: Next-Gen Manufacturing

In the early 20th century, many U.S. factories were located in urban cores, where workers could easily access their jobs. But the benefit of proximity also meant workers lived near loud, polluting factories. And as we know from the history of zoning in the U.S., low-income people frequently had no option but to live in neighborhoods built around intense industrial use.

The consequences of those land use decisions are felt most severely today by communities of color, who continue to suffer from higher rates of health issues like asthma and cancer. So bringing manufacturing back to urban neighborhoods — especially neighborhoods that may have been exposed to the harms of the industry — may seem fraught. But it also offers an opportunity to right some of these historic wrongs.

In this week’s episode of City of the Future, we explore the idea of bringing a new generation of cleaner, greener manufacturing facilities back into our urban cores. We talk to folks at Buffalo’s Northland Workforce Training Center, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and the Boston-based development Indigo Block. We also consider the potential for next-gen manufacturing to create wealth-generating opportunities for people who need it, jumpstart development in disinvested communities — and even provide a new, more resilient economic model for our cities.

In this episode:

  • [00:00 - 1:33] A brief history of urban manufacturing in the U.S. from World War II to present.
  • [1:34-5:32] We interview an expert in workforce development, Stephen Tucker, in Buffalo, New York about Northland Workforce Training Center, an organization with a mission to prepare local residents for careers in advanced manufacturing and clean energy.
  • [6:44 - 8:56] Hosts Vanessa Quirk and Eric Jaffe discuss how the 20th-century history of zoning and land-use decisions around manufacturing negatively impacted low-income and Black neighborhoods.
  • [8:57 - 16:24] The Brooklyn Navy Yard’s chief development officer Johanna Greenbaum introduces us to different folks who work at the Yard’s next-gen manufacturing companies, including Nanotronics’ chief operating officer, James Williams.
  • [16:25 - 25:50] We talk to Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation’s director of real estate, Beth O’Donnell, and director of strategy and development, Kimberly Lyle who show us around one of their most recent projects, Indigo Block — a real live next-gen manufacturing ecosystem!

To see images and videos of topics discussed in this episode, read the link-rich transcript on our Sidewalk Talk Medium page at

City of the Future is hosted by Eric Jaffe and Vanessa Quirk, and produced by Guglielmo Mattioli. Story editing by Rough Cut Collective and Benjamin Walker. Mix is by Andrew Callaway. Art is by Tim Kau. Our music is composed by Adaam James Levin-Areddy of Lost Amsterdam. Special thanks to Stephen Tucker, Johanna Greenbaum, James Williams, Beth O’Donnell, Kimberly Lyle, Alison Novak, Jesse Shapins, and Chrystal Dean.

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