Shipping containers have been re-purposed into everything from emergency shelters to apartment buildings and custom modular homes. CityLab contributor Daryl Mersom reports that the industrial shipping container aesthetic is now driving the development and gentrification of a coastal city in Bristol England. But is the shipping container trend really helping anyone to create affordable housing, or has it become a pop-up fad with draw for its industrial style?

“I believe we're drawn to a period in U.S. history when we made things,” Justin Dorset of Dorset Finds, an online store specializing in vintage industrial items, says. “We are drawn to products that were built to last and made with integrity. Workbenches are marked and dinged where hammers struck them. Task lights at a work station developed a patina from decades of handling. Wood stools lost their finish and developed a dense coloring that can't be replicated.”

Shipping containers filled with the warm glow of vintage industrial lighting clearly fit with this ethos. They are ostensibly used, utilitarian, and appeal to Millennials’ preference for brand authenticity—that is, the desire that products have a genuine backstory, and honest marketing.

Bristol’s shipping containers indeed have a rich backstory that appeals to Millennials—though they are forced to qualify what the word ‘recycled’ actually means, and to call into question the sort of community they want to foster in the city. As the container sites continue to trade off of Bristol’s industrial heritage, these questions become more urgent.

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