Brian Rosa is a Research Fellow at the Department of Geography, Autonomous University of Barcelona. His research focuses on urban redevelopment in the wake of deindustrialization, landscapes of urban infrastructure, political debates about urban heritage and preservation, gentrification, visual methods, and the spatial and cultural politics of urban transformation in Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. He holds a MRP in City and Regional Planning from Cornell University and a PhD in Human Geography from The University of Manchester. He was previously Marie Sklodowska-Curie Research Fellow at the Department of Humanities, Pompeu Fabra University (Barcelona) and Assistant Professor of Urban Studies and Geography at the City University of New York. 

Rosa’s work in relation to deindustrialization focuses upon the ideologies and practices of postindustrial urban redevelopment and the memory politics of industrial heritage practices. On the topic, he recently published “Deindustrialization Without End: Smokestacks as Postindustrial Monuments” (GeoHumanities, 2022). He is the co-editor of the book “Deconstructing the High Line: Postindustrial Urbanism and the Rise of the Elevated Park (Rutgers University Press, 2017). 

Project description

Post-Industrial Chimneys seen Through Urban Regeneration Imaginaries: toward a Networked GeoHumanities

This research explores the industrial heritage and urban redevelopment in deindustrializing European cities, with a focus on the cultural, social, spatial, and economic implications for historically working-class, industrial neighborhoods, towns, an cities. It focuses on specific elements of urban landscapes that have served as the predominating symbol of industrial-and postindustrial-settlements: industrial chimneys. Exploring the perceptions of residents, retired workers, neighborhood activists, policymakers, designers, and investors of the value(s) of artifacts from the industrial past, as well as planning approaches to their protection, reuse, and/or demolition of industrial structures, I use the case of smokestacks to explore the dual processes of deindustrializatoin and urban redevelopment.

The project focuses on two case studies: Barcelona, Spain and Greater Manchester, England. The Barcelona case focuses on an approach to industrial heritage, beginning in the 1980s, when the city began restoring disused smokestacks as monuments, while often demolishing other factory buildings and structures, in a unique and contentious approach to redevelopment of former industrial districts. Along with archival and interview-based research, the project employs photographic and curatorial methodologies. Central to this was an exhibition, Industrial Obelisks, held at the Barcelona History Museum from April to July, 2022, involving a series of guided visits, public debates, and community workshops.

The Greater Manchester case study will look at the cultural phenomenon surrounding Fred Dibnah, a steeplejack from the town of Bolton who came to national fame in the United Kingdom as a specialist in the demolition of smokestacks, as well as an advocate for the industrial heritage. Dibnah was the subject of a number of television documentaries between the 1970s and 1990s. In exploring Dibnah’s work and public legacy, especially the public ritual of demolition, I seek to understand how industrial chimneys came to stand in for the industrial past of the North of England in the popular imagination.