Solving Cities

Transforming old polluting power plants into green urban spaces

Transforming old polluting power plants into green urban spaces

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Shutting down old polluting power plants is great for the environment, but it can also leave big holes in valuable urban spaces. Check out eight amazing examples of repurposed power plants.

Shutting down old polluting power plants is great for the environment, but it can also leave big holes in valuable urban spaces if not dealt with properly.

These sites can sit vacant for years while draining the local economy and eroding neighborhood character. But some cities have transformed these areas into vibrant urban spaces.

A report from American Clean Sky Foundation makes the case for how repurposing retired power plants can transform urban neighborhoods.

"Many old generating plants occupy strategic locations in urban areas, often with access to valuable waterfront," the report says. "These sites present tremendous opportunities for new civic and private uses such as riverfront housing, shops and offices – as well as museums, parks and other community amenities."

Here are eight examples the report gives of redeveloped power plants that are now, or are in the process of becoming, meaningful places in urban setting.

1. Homan Square Power House, Chicago, Ill.

Before: Built in 1905, these four buildings with an area of 30,000 sq. ft. in west Chicago provided electricity and heat to the world headquarters of Sears, Roebuck and Co.

After: Redesigned between 2007 and 2009 as the Shaw Technology and Learning Center, this LEED Platinum building is a community meeting space for low- and moderate-income residents. It also houses the Henry Ford Academy, or Power House High. The school’s original curriculum incorporates themes of green technology and environmental sustainability.

2. Station L Power Plant, Portland, Ore. (above)

Before: Built on an 18.5-acre site along the Willamette River, across from downtown Portland, Oregon in 1908.

After: In 1992 the 219,000 sq. ft. Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) was built in place of the old power plant. The museum parking lot is home to the first North American solar-powered electric car charging station.

3. PG&E Power Station B, Sacramento, Calif.

Before: Next to the Sacramento River, near downtown, this power plant had a three-story turbine room, two- story boiler room, and four 220-ft. smokestacks. Station B ceased operating in 1954.

After: In 2013 the former power plant will reopen as the Powerhouse Science Center, a high-tech educational facility for students and families. "The City of Sacramento views the project as part of an effort to become a national leader in the green economy," the report says.

4. Pennsylvania Railroad Powerhouse, Queens, N.Y.

Before: Vacant since the late 1990s, this seven-story power plant was designed with four 275-ft. chimneys around 1906.

After: In 2008, the plant re-opened as PowerHouse Condominium. When all phases of redevelopment are complete the space will have 447 housing units and 180,000 sq. ft. of galleries, restaurants, and offices.

5. Seaholm Power Plant, Austin, Texas

Before: The 130,000 sq. ft. power plant complex sits on a 7.8-acre property and opened in 1958 and has not produced electricity since 1989.

After: Plans are underway for a mixed-use space. The former plant will house an 8,000 sq. ft. center for concerts and special events. Office space, retail shops, and restaurants will be located on the bottom floor. "The Seaholm Power project is expected to revitalize a hidden corner of downtown Austin while also supporting more than 200 jobs and generating over $2 million in yearly tax revenues," the report says.

6. Ultimo Power Station, Sydney, Australia

Before: Sitting in the Darling Harbor, this plant was built between 1899 and 1902. It stopped operating in 1961.

After: Opened in 1988, The Powerhouse Museum is Australia's largest and most popular museum.

7. The Chester Power Station, Philadelphia, Pa.

Before: This 396,000 sq. ft. power plant located on the waterfront along the Delaware River was built in the late 1910s and operated until 1982.

After: The site was redeveloped in 2004 as office space known as The Wharf at Rivertown. Turbine Hall’s four stories now house office space and a multi-purpose meeting room, along with concert and party areas.

8. The South Street Power Station, Providence, R.I.

Before: This three-building, 350,000 sq. ft. space is located along the Providence River. It was decommissioned in the 1990s.

After: Plans for redevelopment include a restaurant on the ground level, 55,000 sq. ft. for a two-floor museum, about 150,000 sq. ft. of leased office space on three levels, and a 171-room luxury brand hotel on the top two floors.

Photos: wallyg, mikegunh via Flickr

[Via NRDC Switchboard]

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure