Many American cities face opportunities and challenges concerning the reuse of closed military installations. From Alameda, California to Hampton Roads, Virginia, responsibly and sustainably redeveloping military installations raises many questions concerning the effective use of massive tracts of land. In Hampton Roads, the closure of Fort Monroe, an Army installation at the mouth of the region’s harbor, epitomizes the balancing act of achieving economic goals while addressing environmental and planning challenges.
View of the San Francisco financial district from decommissioned Alameda Naval Station, California. Alameda provides new, affordable housing in the East Bay, while successfully preserving Victorian architecture on the island.
Fort Monroe was officially slated for closure during the 2005 round of Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC), a periodic Congressional cost-cutting initiative which eliminates obsolete military installations across the USA. In 2011, more than four centuries after the first fortifications were built, Fort Monroe was formally decommissioned. That closure opened more than 550 acres of land to the city of Hampton, as well as dozens of historic buildings, considerable wetlands, and the nineteenth century stone fortress at the heart of the installation. This sudden opportunity provided by Fort Monroe’s decommissioning has pitted real estate developers against environmental and historical preservationists.
Fort Monroe presents a somewhat unique case with respect to military installation closures, given the historic importance of many buildings on the island. Unlike other recently-closed urban military bases - such as Naval Air Station Alameda in California’s Bay Area - Fort Monroe’s structures pre-date the Cold War era boom of construction, and has provided us with a remarkably rich architectural heritage. A coalition of environmental non-profits and advocacy organizations, such as Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park, are seeking to protect the island from runaway development, promoting the creation of green space around the National Monument. The Fort Monroe Authority, charged with redeveloping and re-purposing the island, however, has been less receptive to such extensive preservationism.
Historic Fort Monroe, lower center of picture, with its moat and buttressed, fortified walls. The Phoebus neighborhood of Hampton is connected to the fort by two bridges, extreme upper left of the picture.
The future of Fort Monroe remains uncertain. Even if the city does pursue aggressive redevelopment of the island, the same regional planning challenges facing Hampton Roads will apply to the microcosm of Hampton. How can the city develop land that is tenuously connected to the rest of the city, through only two bridges with two lanes each? How can the city achieve development in the face of sluggish regional population and employment growth?
Credits: Alameda image by Scott Racette. Data linked to sources.