The Green Beat

By Anna Waugh

It has been almost two years since the Ford Motor Co. announced it would shut down its St. Paul plant, and now the city must decide what will become of the nearly 125 acres, located about two and a half miles southwest of Macalester along the Mississippi River. Many Macalester students have gotten involved in planning for the redevelopment of the site. They see the plant’s closure as an opportunity to reconnect the site with the community and as a space for exploring the possibilities of green manufacturing.Macalester’s involvement in the plant began just after Ford announced in April 2006 that the plant would close and that nearly 1,900 workers would lose their jobs. Madeline Kovacs ’08, then a sophomore, was doing a Lilly Project over the summer on green jobs and the blue/green alliance between labor organizations and the environment. An interview with union organizer Lynn Hinkle, who had worked at the Ford Plant for nearly 30 years, led to a partnership between Macalester students and the UAW Local 879, which resulted in opportunities for students to affect the restructuring of a significant space in the neighborhood.

Hinkle and the students who work with him have a vision for the Ford Site that includes using the energy generated by a hydropower dam currently owned by the Ford Motor Co. to power green industries housed on the site. The green manufacturing on-site would create family-sustaining jobs that could replace the jobs lost due to the closing of the Ford Plant.

“I came to this because I wanted to make sure that no one lost their jobs,” Hinkle said. “We have the capacity with the Ford site to create a beacon for what green jobs can really look like in this country. What if we could have a light-rail manufacturing facility here? What about a site for all of the renewable energy? We could meet the market for wind turbines.”

The vision also includes residential housing constructed on the site that would mesh with the surrounding Highland Park neighborhood. It would be what Andrew Erhmann ’08, one of the students working with Hinkle, called “a model for how people live.”

The site could provide a space for people to “live on the Ford site, shop on the Ford Site, and work on the Ford site,” Erhmann said. “The framework is so strong and so holistic. It cannot be done in a top-down process. You have to work with the city, talk with everybody.”

The city of St. Paul has appointed the Ford Site Planning Task Force, a mixed group of city council members, architects, neighbors and other experts to examine options for what will ultimately happen at the Ford Plant when it fully closes in 2009. Their meetings, which happen every third Monday, are open to the public and are often attended by Macalester students.

Hinkle said that he has been excited by the enthusiasm of students who have jumped on board with the idea of green manufacturing, and the alliance between Hinkle and Macalester students has led to internships, like the one John Simkins ’08 has this semester helping to create momentum for the Alliance to Re-Industrialize for a Sustainable Economy. It has also led to a lot of what Hinkle called “teachable moments.”

“Students who stand up and say ‘green manufacturing!’ make a big difference,” Hinkle said.