Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The factories that aren't there

I haven’t quite hit oil country yet, but as someone with a fascination for deindustrialized and postindustrial places, I wanted to mention my stop last night in Corning, New York, just north of the Pennsylvania border. The corporate headquarters of glass- and ceramic-maker Corning, Incorporated is still there, in a low, shiny, black, somewhat Darth-Vaderish complex along the waterfront. Also prominent is the Corning Museum of Glass, built in 1951 and expanded several times since then. Near the museum and corporate headquarters is Corning’s “Gaffer District” (a gaffer, in glass-blowing parlance, is the person who actually blows the glass), its version of the ubiquitous arts district in deindustrialized places.

And deindustrialized Corning definitely is. The helpful woman at the motel where I stayed told me she’s been watching industry leave the Chemung River Valley over the 20+ years she and her husband have run the motel. She added a phrase that didn’t seem to make sense at first: “If you go downtown and look along the riverbank, you’ll see all the factories that aren’t there anymore.” When I looked at the riverbank, though, I could see that her description actually seemed apt: the riverfront park really looks like a bright green scab over a fairly recent wound. It’s a nice space, especially at sunset, but it still looks very new and tender. There’s a clear feeling that the museums and arts district constitute the new industry in town, but as these kinds of redevelopments continue to proliferate and fuel prices remain high (although they’ve certainly dropped from the point they reached a few weeks ago), how robust are all these heritagized towns likely to become?

I’m posting this from Wellsville, New York, not far west of Corning, which also shows signs of a substantial investment in creative production and the arts. Lately I’ve been starting to wonder whether artists themselves may become a scarce resource at some point, or whether this is an endlessly self-reproducing sector!

Automotive link: Corning’s ceramics are important in the manufacture of catalytic converters for gasoline engines. (Test your knowledge of these handy devices here.) Corning is also apparently working on emissions control technology for diesel engines (so perhaps more of these will be able to pass muster in more U.S. states, giving us a more European-sized range of diesel passenger vehicles to choose from!)

No comments: