7 Industrial Projects Reborn as Creative Public Spaces

A transformed park right by a flowing river

Gokke Baarssen / Shutterstock

It’s a cliché, but everything old truly can become new again. In fact, reuse is one of the hallmarks of green living. And, as you’re about to see, it can go far beyond finding new life for old wine corks and outdated sweaters. With a little sustainable imagination, deserted industrial sites, aging airports, and even abandoned nuclear plants can all be creatively remade into lively educational, cultural, and outdoor recreational centers for a new generation.

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Steel Stacks

Photo: Jim Dickson/Flickr [CC by 2.0]

Built on a 4.5-acre brown field — home to the former Bethlehem Steel industrial complex in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania — SteelStacks features an arts center with restaurants and concert venues, an outdoor concert pavilion, and the local PBS affiliate’s new media and education center. With five iconic blast furnaces serving as a towering back drop, the cultural center, which opened in 2011, is expected to expand to include the National Museum of Industrial History.

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Seaventures Dive Resort

Photo: Felixlvh/Wikimedia Commons [CC by 4.0]

Off the coast of Malaysian Borneo, an abandoned oil rig now serves as a thriving resort for deep sea divers and snorkelers, complete with hotel rooms, a restaurant and live entertainment. Seaventures Dive Resort offers underwater enthusiasts the opportunity to swim among hundreds of species of tropical fish, marine turtles and other sea creatures that make their home in the magnificent coral reefs of the Celebes Sea.

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Wunderland Kalkar

Photo: Koetjuh/Wikimedia Commons [CC by 1.0]

OK, the idea of enjoying amusement-park thrills at the site of a former nuclear plant may not be your idea of good, clean fun — but hear us out. The German government actually never opened its state-of-the art plant in Kalkar after it began construction in the 1970s. (The Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters changed their plans.) A Dutch investor bought the site in the 1990s and converted its acres of concrete and buildings into an amusement park resort. The crowning jewel is a 130-foot climbing wall on the outside of the former cooling tower and a death-defying swing ride inside.

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Floyd Bennett Airfield

Photo: Gmerrill/Wikimedia Commons [CC by 4.0]

Like to sleep under the stars but live in the city (specifically New York City)? Not to worry: You don’t have to go far to enjoy a wilderness snooze. Floyd Bennett Field, a once-thriving municipal airport that opened in Brooklyn in 1931 and served as a key Naval air station during World War II, offers rustic urban camping on some of its 387 acres (part of Gateway National Recreation Area on Jamaica Bay). The federal government plans to expand the number of campsites to 90 in the next two years and possibly up to 600 after that, making it the largest urban campground in the nation. While you’re there, enjoy some city-side hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking and swimming.

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Tate Modern Museum

Photo: Richie Chan/Shutterstock

This former oil-fired power station along the south bank of the Thames River in London was remade into a magnificent modern art museum in 2000 and is now one of the city’s top tourist attractions. The immense brick-facade building with a towering chimney — the former Bankside Power Station — was originally designed by architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and constructed between 1947 and 1963. Slated for demolition after it closed in 1981, the station’s cavernous five-story turbine hall now serves as the museum’s impressive entrance space and the former boiler house is home to its galleries. A two-story glass penthouse constructed on top of the original roof features a café and stunning views of the city.

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High Line Park

Photo: Matias Garabedian/Wikimedia Commons [CC by 2.0]

This newly opened public green space on Manhattan’s west side is a former 1.45-mile elevated freight rail line. Running from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, High Line Park offers above-street walkways, gardens, tours, performances, art exhibits and educational programs. Similar open spaces are being planned in Philadelphia, Chicago and many other cities.

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Templehof Park

Photo: Gregory Varnum/Wikimedia Commons [CC by 4.0]

Home to a giant Nazi-built terminal building and scene of the famous Berlin Airlift in 1948 when Allied planes flew in much-need supplies to war-weary West Berliners during the Cold War, Templehof Airport’s 950-acre system of old runways and grassy expanses (larger than New York’s Central Park) opened as a public park in 2010. Rollerbladers, picnickers, joggers, kite-flyers and people out for a stroll now flock there (an estimated 50,000 per weekend) for a taste of the urban outdoors.