Connecting Art, Sustainability, and Urban Futures in South Bend

Caitlin Hodges

In a world increasingly impacted by a shifting climate, industrial cycles, migration, and political instability, there has been a rapid uptake in global urbanization. In 2014, half of the total human population lived in cities. By the year 2050, a projected 66% to 70% of the worldwide population could inhabit urban centers—and most of the built infrastructure needed to support these numbers has not yet been constructed.

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With global population totals swelling to an estimated 11 billion by 2050, and most of this growth occurring in cities, the function of urban organization must be reconsidered. Given the role of changing climate in the Anthropocene, strategies for social and infrastructural climate adaptation are critical for cities. Climatologists project that urban regions must prepare for increased severity of storm events, changing sea-levels, and extreme precipitation—creating the need for streamlined water management practices. Along with marked temperature shifts, certain cities have already experienced the symptoms (or, at the least, similar conditions) of global climate change. These severe events, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and their aftermath highlight the fragility of American urban systems as well as the crucial task of planning strategies oriented toward resilience.

As urban planners look to a human future while we are already approaching planetary boundaries related to potable water and fossil fuels, the American Midwest has become an area of interest for innovation and development. This is especially true in formerly industrial cities spanning from Chicago, Illinois to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Colloquially known as the “Rust Belt,” this geography has experienced dramatic social and economic change in the past century due to the ongoing process of deindustrialization. Although most large-scale manufacturing activity has ceased, metropolitan settlements in the region still boast the resources needed to make that industrial activity profitable in the first place. This includes river frontage, freshwater aquifers, arable soil, and railway infrastructure; these resources now give postindustrial cities an edge in the push for climate adaptation.

Image4SLO Architecture Studio's Harvest Dome, 2.0 (on left). The piece is a statement on urban decay, reclamation, and environmentalism.

As America’s postindustrial cities enact spatial strategies for climate adaptation, place attachment and the “psychology of hope” will be two critical measures for long-term, socially informed resilience. My capstone situates factors of environmentally responsible behavior within postindustrial studies by building on contemporary urban studies and environmental psychology literature. This leads to a case review of social practice public art, which is an emerging regenerative strategy in communities across the globe. Through carefully chosen studies in communities which face industrial challenges similar to South Bend, Indiana, my paper provides a new perspective on the links between climate adaptation, placemaking, and cultural flows in postindustrial American cities—which themselves will play an important role in national adaptation over the coming century.