Sidewalk Talk
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Sidewalk Talk

City of the Future

Dec 10, 2021

19 min read

Episode 19: Next-Gen Manufacturing

How can we bring the benefits of manufacturing back to disinvested neighborhoods — without the drawbacks?

1950s Newscaster: The reconversion of war plants to peacetime pursuits is going ahead at full speed.

Documentary Narrator 1: Most of the men who went away to war returned by the millions.

Documentary Narrator 1: Consumer goods of all kinds were coming off the assembly lines.

Documentary Narrator 2: Young families flocked to buy a piece of the American Dream. It’s the good life, in the suburbs.

Stephen Tucker: Manufacturing has always been in the DNA of Buffalo and Western New York. That’s why when you come here, you see these huge underutilized factories of the past, which are almost like the ancient Mayan ruins, right?

An aerial photograph of Buffalo, New York’s skyline filled with buildings, warehouses, roads, and coastal view.
Buffalo, New York, a city where, according to Stephen Tucker, manufacturing is in its “DNA”. (Image: Wikipedia / DJI Phantom Fall of 2015)

Stephen Tucker: I worked in manufacturing before. When I left Ford Motor Company, I made almost $100,000 a year, which is transformative with overtime. You can access these jobs with a high school diploma and a little bit of specific training.

Stephen Tucker: So the state took an intentional approach to ensure they created access to opportunities for residents in the neighborhoods instead of just focusing on downtown. How do we create an atmosphere and an environment to attract locals or companies from outside the area?

Stephen Tucker: And we even had a gentleman. He was in front of our lobby, and he was very emotional because he was one of the original engineers at the manufacturing plant from the ’40s. He said he’s just excited to see something happening with this facility again. It was pretty, it was pretty powerful.

Stephen Tucker: So, it’s very exciting right now to be on the east side of Buffalo. Just four years ago, there was no one walking on Northland Avenue, and now, there are more than 500 people here every day. Now, multiple banking institutions are moving into the east side of Buffalo. As a matter of fact, one of our banking partners, Bank One Buffalo, will be co-located within our facility to be providing second-chance checking accounts for students who need it and financial empowerment training. There are now grocery stores around the corner from where we’re located. We’re now starting to see people take more pride in their homes. So, we’re starting to see the investment really take effect here on the east side.

A photograph of a heavily-used industrial area by the water, filled with cranes, boats, and warehouses.
Previously a federal shipyard, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was bought by the City of New York in the 1960s. (Image: Guglielmo Mattioli)

Taras Kravtchouk: So there’s no gearbox. There’s nothing to shift. You just twist the throttle, and then…

Vanessa Quirk: Nice stop at the stop sign. A complete stop. More than I would have done, let’s be honest.

Johanna Greenbaum: Ok, so I’m going to take you to my favorite place in the Yard, which is the roof.

Vanessa Quirk: You’ve got this amazing view of the New York city skyline.

Johanna Greenbaum: We’re literally looking at the Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Williamsburg bridges. We are in this closed facility that touches five major Brooklyn neighborhoods from Dumbo, to downtown Brooklyn, to Fort Greene, a little bit of Clinton Hill.

A photograph of a waterfront manufacturing area scattered with boats, industrial equipment, low-rise warehouses, and a skyline view.
The view from one of the buildings in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which is situated near Dumbo, Downtown Brooklyn, Fort Greene, and Clinton Hill. (Image: Guglielmo Mattioli)

James Williams: We’re able to scale up rather quickly to grow a workforce that is able to work on the most technically exciting and advanced next-generation foundational technologies. So we have grown probably threefold in the last year and a half, and we’ll add 80 more people. So if anyone has a resume they want to send over, we’re more than happy to bring you onto our team.

James Williams: In March of 2020, we started making these non-invasive ventilators. We realized we’re going to have to scale up quickly to meet the demand to try and save as many lives as possible. The Navy Yard helped loan us their STEAM center here in the Yard, and we’re churning out 1,200 to 1,500 of these medical devices a week that are being sent worldwide and saving as many lives.

Johanna Greenbaum: We quickly went to companies and said, “Can you make this? How fast can you make it? Here’s another company on the Yard who can help you.” And people, companies that didn’t know each other, went into business and started producing face shields and gowns in less than a week. This is why I think it’s so important to have these types of creative, innovative companies that can actually make things. Not just… I mean, computer code is great, software is awesome, and offices are important to the ecosystem of New York. But, still, you also need people capable of making the thing, especially when the supply chain is not what we’ve all relied on it to be.

Vanessa Quirk: Hear, hear!

A photograph of a train track on the left and a building on the right shows greenery fields in between.
Indigo Block in Boston, located right next to the Upham’s Corner T stop, combines affordable rental housing, some homes for affordable ownership, and a state-of-the-art office slash industrial facility. (Image: Vanessa Quirk)

Vanessa Quirk: Let me put my hat on, because it’s cold in Boston.

Beth O’ Donnell: Welcome to Indigo Block. I’m Beth O’Donnell. I’m the Real Estate Director, at Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation.

Kimberly Lyle: I’m Kimberly Lyle, the Director of Strategy and Development at Dorchester Bay.

Kimberly Lyle: I live about five minutes up the street. It’s a pretty diverse neighborhood. Overwhelmingly people of color. We have many folks in the community of Cape Verdean origin, Haitian origin, and many Latinos.

Kimberly Lyle: We are in an area surrounded by other neighborhoods experiencing a lot of development, so folks in this neighborhood are certainly feeling the effects of gentrification. And you wonder who all of the development is for? When you’re living in a place where a 10-minute walk away, a one-bedroom apartment goes for $2,500, you know that’s not for you. And so you’re interested in seeing development that’s going to respond to your needs. And it’s not just about the housing, and it’s also about being able to access jobs.

Beth O’ Donnell: Not very straightforward. Many development companies do one or the other, but not both.

Beth O’ Donnell: Light industrial, light manufacturing, or potentially food preparation services. All of which could provide opportunities for folks in the neighborhood.

Kimberly Lyle: Part of the reason, you know, the community backed Dorchester Bay in being the developer for this is because our proposal responded to their actual needs.

A photograph of a largely empty office/industrial space with a concrete floor, six vertical pipes in the foreground, and two people in the background near a wall of windows.
With Indigo Block, Dorchester Bay Development Corporation aimed to design a flexible industrial/office building that could adapt to a future where economic or job needs change — so the spaces are wide open and easily divisible. (Image: Vanessa Quirk)

Vanessa Quirk: Great. Well, I’m ready to take a look if you’re ready to show me around.

Beth O’ Donnell: Yeah.

Kimberly Lyle: It’s a pretty cool space.

Vanessa Quirk: Wonderful.

Beth O’ Donnell: This is our light industrial space with high ceilings. There are four loading bays. There is a mezzanine, and the idea here is that there might be offices up there and an opportunity to look down onto the production space…

Vanessa Quirk: That would be neat.

Beth O’ Donnell: … from the mezzanine.

Beth O’ Donnell: The potential for conflict with the abutting residential, and you can see now how close it is.

Vanessa Quirk: Mm-hmm. It’s just across the street.

Beth O’ Donnell: Exactly.

Beth O’ Donnell: While we have gravel here as the base, we can be infinitely flexible for our future tenants in terms of where they’re going to put their infrastructure, including their plumbing.

Vanessa Quirk: Oh, because if it were concrete, then you’d have to crack through it every time you wanted to move something around?

Beth O’ Donnell: Correct.

Vanessa Quirk: Oh, that’s pretty neat.

Beth O’ Donnell: The idea was to be an extension of the neighborhood. Not to be a neighborhood unto ourselves. So the site is open to the public. The playground is open, and the future ramp to the train is open to the public.

Vanessa Quirk: And I think you mentioned that it’s close to the T, so it does have public transit.

Kimberly Lyle: The T is right there. It is. We also recognize that this area isn’t the only area where folks may find employment. So being able to have access, quick access to downtown, increases access for people in this neighborhood to seek out employment elsewhere.

Beth O’ Donnell: So we’ve got everybody from formerly homeless folks all the way up to families making over $100,000. And the units are interspersed.

Kimberly Lyle: That’s right. There’s no poor door situation here, and there’s no skimping on surfaces and finishes based on someone’s income, which is really important, right?

Vanessa Quirk: There are some houses across the street. It looks like they’re also under construction. Are these part of the project as well?

Beth O’ Donnell: They’re meant for first-time home buyers.

Vanessa Quirk: That’s pretty remarkable, too, that you were able to incorporate that. That’s unusual, right?

Kimberly Lyle: Well, also in response to community needs. So this is a really good example of how the community recognized that it needed and wanted a couple of different things, and we were able to deliver on them.

Kimberly Lyle: So oftentimes, when you live in certain neighborhoods, even though you have a point of view about what you need and what you want, other people come in, and they give you what they feel like you deserve. And so I guess what I would say to other developers is even though it may be more challenging, even though it may be outside of your comfort zone, if you are prioritizing a community’s needs and desires, then your approach needs to be responsive to what they’re asking for and not your own limitations.