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Principles of Brownfield Regeneration: Cleanup, Design, and Reuse of Derelict Land

Principles of Brownfield Regeneration: Cleanup, Design, and Reuse of Derelict Land

by Justin Hollander

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The US. EPA defines brownfields as "idle real property, the development or improvement of which is impaired by real or perceived contamination." The authors of Principles of Brownfield Regeneration argue that, compared to "greenfields"-farmland, forest, or pasturelands that have never been developed-brownfields offer a more sustainable land development choice.


The US. EPA defines brownfields as "idle real property, the development or improvement of which is impaired by real or perceived contamination." The authors of Principles of Brownfield Regeneration argue that, compared to "greenfields"-farmland, forest, or pasturelands that have never been developed-brownfields offer a more sustainable land development choice. They believe that brownfields are central to a sustainable planning strategy of thwarting sprawl, preserving or regenerating open space, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and reinvesting in urbanized areas. This is the first book to provide an accessible introduction to the design, policy, and technical issues related to brownfield redevelopment. After defining brownfields and advocating for their redevelopment, the book describes the steps for cleaning up a site and creating viable land for development or open space. Land use and design considerations are addressed in a separate chapter and again in each of five case studies that make up the heart of the volume: The Steel Yard, Providence, RI; Assunpink Greenway, Trenton, NJ; June Key Community Center Demonstration Project, Portland, OR; Eastern Manufacturing Facility, Brewer, ME; and The Watershed at Hillsdale, Portland, OR. Throughout, the authors draw on interviews with people involved in brownfield projects as well as on their own considerable expertise.

Editorial Reviews

Landscape Architecture Magazine

"Intense interest in brownfields has produced many technical books on remediation. Principles of Brownfield Regeneration (its title a nod to John Lyle's regenerative approach) aims to be 'a brief, concise, clear primer' to guide professionals, officials, and activists in planning brownfield projects. For the most part, it succeeds very well. . . . Several landscape architecture firms are making good livings from brownfields. . . . Many more landscape professionals could get involved, but lack the basics to take the plunge. This book provides a real service, an economic opportunity in hard times. . . . Without explicitly saying so, Principles of Brownfield Regeneration is an extremely timely condemnation of bottom-line values, lacking creativity or civic conscience, that accept land dereliction as a normal cost of doing business."

"Anyone who needs to get up to speed on brownfields will wear this book out."
Journal of Planning Education and Research

"In essence, the pragmatic nature of this book enables a quick read for anyone wishing to become familiar with brownfields. While the target audiences for the book includes planning students at undergraduate and graduate levels and people new to the field of planning and development, the book's readability applies to a broader audience. However, for academics well versed in brownfield remediation, this book provides little in the way of new information or rigorous methodology. Nevertheless, the book succeeds in its aim of explaining brownfield remediation in an accessible manner."
Professor of Urban Planning and Real Estate, Cleveland State University - Robert Simons

"This concise, accessible book is packed with updated information, web links, and insights from the field. It demystifies common pollutants and remediation processes, and elucidates the strategies behind brownfield redevelopment and site design. Nice diagrams and photos appear throughout, and the case studies are diverse, non-technical, and interesting."
Journal of Planning Education and Research - Jesse D. Saiginor

"In essence, the pragmatic nature of this book enables a quick read for anyone wishing to become familiar with blownfields. While the target audiences for the book includes planning students at undergraduate and graduate levels and people new to the field of planning and development, the book's readability applies to a broader audience. However, for academics well versed in brownfield remediation, this book provides little in the way of new information or rigorous methodology. Nevertheless, the book succeeds in its aim of explaining brownfield remediation in an accessible manner."
Journal of Urban Design

"An interesting read and one that is a pleasure to recommend."
President and CEO, Clean Land Fund - William J. Penn

"This book presents a comprehensive roadmap for redeveloping brownfields in the twenty-first century. The authors take the reader through the process from A to Z, identify potential pitfalls, and provide practical case studies."

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Island Press
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Principles of Brownfield Regeneration

Cleanup, Design, and Reuse of Derelict Land

By Justin B. Hollander, Niall G. Kirkwood, Julia L. Gold


Copyright © 2010 Justin B. Hollander, Niall G. Kirkwood, and Julia L. Gold
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59726-990-2



For a class of properties that are often contaminated, dilapidated, and dangerous to occupy, brownfields have been remarkably popular in this first part of the twenty-first century. As the world has begun to turn a deep shade of green in practically every arena, from lamp design to air travel, the brownfields concept has taken off like few other ideas in the fields of land use and real estate development.

The term brownfield originated in the early 1990s when practitioners and researchers saw how emerging regulatory frameworks designed to protect the environment were, as a side effect, inhibiting the reuse, cleanup, and redevelopment of former industrial and commercial sites. These brownfield visionaries reconceptualized vacant lots and abandoned properties; they invented a new term, brownfield, to express both the challenges and opportunities that such sites offered.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines brownfields as idle real property, the development or improvement of which is impaired by real or perceived contamination. It is the contamination (even perceived contamination) that represents the most significant public problem and the greatest barrier to putting idle property back into use. See Box 1.1 for examples of typical brownfield sites.


Juxtaposed against the "greenfield"—composed of farmland, forest, or pasturelands that have never seen development—brownfields offer a more sustainable land-development choice. By taking full advantage of existing infrastructure, cleaning up contamination, and leaving greenfields untouched in their virgin states, brownfields take center stage in a sustainable planning strategy of thwarting sprawl, preserving open space, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, and reinvesting in urbanized areas and their communities. In rapidly urbanizing areas, brownfields—if reused—can host new development and new uses that would otherwise spread throughout undisturbed landscapes far outside urban centers. Brownfields can help balance regional land-development processes, so that fewer virgin greenfields are despoiled and at the same time underutilized land can be regenerated (see Figure 1.1).

Across the fence from boarded-up brownfield sites sit the neighbors, who often suffer from long-term pollution and the stigma effect on property values associated with abandoned property. Reusing these sites brings many benefits to the quality of life in the surrounding neighborhood, such as reduced crime, enhanced local environmental quality, and improved property values. If integrated into a broader strategic planning framework, brownfield reuse can address broader societal challenges of improved energy efficiency; reduced consumption of natural resources; cleaner air, water, and land; and an overall reduced carbon footprint. For those living near a brownfield, reuse and redevelopment can be transformational—particularly for those plagued by a legacy of environmental injustice.

First and foremost, reusing brownfields is good for the property owner, as a successful remediation can go far in limiting an owner's liabilities at a property. Some owners will "mothball" their brownfields in order to hide from legal and environmental responsibilities, but research has shown that such owners are only making things worse for themselves. Working closely with state and federal regulators can increase a property's real-estate value and allow an owner to leverage that value to address environmental liabilities.

For cities and towns, the broader benefits of brownfields reuse are connected to the economic opportunities presented by restoring environmentally damaged land and eliminating the kinds of blight that scare away new business. For cities like New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Trenton, New Jersey, gaining an international reputation as a place to redevelop brownfields has put them on the map and helped them attract a new cadre of businesses and economic activity into their communities.

Addressing brownfields is a critical piece in a broader set of urban planning strategies that are linking local action with global climate change. Research has shown that development of greenfield sites on the exurban fringe is a key contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, pollution, and natural-resource consumption. Policies that support brownfield reuse effectively reduce barriers to infill development on existing urban lands, thereby relieving development pressure from these greenfield exurban sites. The result is a lighter carbon footprint and a more sustainable pattern of human settlement.


By most estimates, the number of brownfields is massive—U.S. government estimates put the number of American brownfields at about half a million, and in Asia and Europe the totals may be just as high. Brownfields are found in both cities and towns, in the rural hinterland, and the inner suburbs. Brownfields are suspected to be present on nearly every continent of the globe, with the greatest prevalence in post-industrial zones—places where industry boomed in the nineteenth or twentieth century and has since waned. But not all brownfields are the same. They range in size, extent of contamination, and market value. The simplest example, the gas station with leaking underground tanks, is often the easiest to redevelop. On the other side of the spectrum are the skeletons of industrial dinosaurs, the defunct steel mill complexes or abandoned mines that have widespread and unknown contamination and little market value. Each class of brownfields demands unique treatments in terms of both remediation and planning (see Figure 1.2).

When the concept of brownfields was born, U.S. federal largesse followed, and over the last fifteen years billions have been spent in combined public/ private investments in characterizing, remediating, and redeveloping brownfields. But the billions spent have resulted in a mere modicum of success compared to the sea of derelict sites scattered throughout our cities and towns. More work is certainly needed.

While the challenges to brownfields reuse abound, there is ample evidence that one big challenge is knowledge—knowledge about how to even get started with a site, knowledge about the ways to characterize and remediate sites, and knowledge about reusing brownfields, dealing with regulatory officials, and potential liabilities. In this book, we attempt to satisfy this knowledge gap by offering a brief, concise, and clear primer on the topic of brownfields. We offer sufficient guidance on basic design and remediation techniques to prepare the reader to be an effective partner in a brownfields reuse project. This book will serve as a foundation for the kind of on-the-job learning that occurs in any new and novel enterprise; it will also provide the reader with some vocabulary and equip the reader to ask the right kinds of questions. Case studies are presented at the end of the book so the reader can see how the concepts introduced here have been applied in practice. And finally, extensive notes and bibliography at the back of the book offer the next steps for those who want to do further research. It is our goal that this book will enable professionals, activists, and ordinary citizens to become more engaged in getting their brownfields back into use, and thus to help their own communities navigate a path to a sustainable future.


Approaching Brownfield Redevelopment

This chapter introduces many of the key factors that are essential to consider when beginning or planning a brownfield redevelopment. By discussing the stakeholders, programs, and technicalities that are important to be aware of, this chapter can serve as a useful starting point when planning for a project. It is vital that each of the issues discussed below is considered carefully and that all the options and available opportunities are understood when getting involved in a brownfield project. It is easy to overlook critical factors when getting started with a site, but the issues that get pushed aside can play a large role in a project's success.

In approaching this section, the authors considered their own experience working on brownfields and realized that being an expert on a topic can sometime cloud one's memory of being a novice. To balance our extensive experience, we reached out to a distinct subgroup within the brownfields world: first-timers. These real-estate, planning, and environmental professionals all had significant professional experience but had never faced a brownfields project. Using a "snowball sampling" approach—we first talked to our contacts, and then talked to their contacts—we ended up with a group of 25 people who had fairly recently been involved in their first brownfields project. The group included local officials, architects, citizen activists, real-estate developers, leaders of nonprofits, and business owners. What follows is a distillation of the advice of these first-timers, improved in a few minor ways by the authors' decades' worth of experience in brownfields and rearticulated as a simple three-step plan for approaching brownfield development.


Before beginning with a project, it is important to have a clear plan. This may sound obvious, but sometimes it can be easy to begin site remediation without fully understanding what the end result will look like. Many first-time brownfield developers explain that it is easy to rush projects, especially when funding is time sensitive. These first-timers stressed the importance of not letting time dictate decision making and of ensuring adequate preparation for each step before jumping into a project. By thinking through the process from the beginning, it is easier to see the bigger picture. Although brownfield projects have the tendency to change and thus require flexibility, it is crucial that every project have a story to present. Having a clear picture of where a project is and where it is headed will help to build a solid foundation for its future.

Once a project enters the planning stages, a number of simultaneous questions emerge:

1) Who will be involved? That is, what agencies, members of the project team, and individuals or groups within the community?

2) How will the team's preliminary plans be communicated to adjacent property owners and to local and state officials, and how will stakeholders' input be considered in rethinking and redesigning the brownfields reuse strategy?

3) What are the relevant support programs and options for cleanup, liability, insurance, and funding? It is important to remember that every case is unique. The following suggestions can help in navigating the process of cleanup, design, and redevelopment, but in the end each project will create its own path.


In most cases, a brownfield redevelopment will include a variety of professionals, agencies, and community members. (See Box 2.1 for a list of hypothetical team members and others who might be involved in a project). It can be difficult to know from the beginning whom to include in plans, conversations, or meetings, but involving the appropriate parties from the beginning is a crucial aspect of brownfield work. Often, individuals or agencies are brought on board in the middle of the process, but this can complicate and slow down a project. By bringing people together from the beginning, it's possible to create a united team where everyone understands the project goals and their own responsibilities.

The first group that should be organized is an on-site team. This can be a large team including many different professionals, or the team can be smaller, depending on the project and its requirements. Involving experienced professionals in this team is one of the most important considerations during a project, especially if other team members have never worked with brownfields. Given the many unique components of brownfield redevelopment, it is crucial to have knowledgeable and experienced people working closely on a project throughout the whole process. Project managers from all over the country said that the need to put together the right team was one of the most important lessons they had learned.

While hiring the right people can be difficult if project managers are unfamiliar with the process, there are many useful resources to help build the best team. Local and state agencies or project managers from other redevelopments can provide information and recommend people with whom they have worked on projects. It can be easy to rush into a project once the process has begun, but taking time on this initial step is crucial. A project must have a team that will help it go smoothly and facilitate its success.

Once a core team has been assembled, project managers must decide which other individuals and groups should be involved in the project or at least be informed of its progress (see Box 2.1). This can be an overwhelming step, especially if there are project details that are still unclear. If the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is involved with a project, they may be able to help project managers understand which state and local agencies should be included. Depending on the local regulations, there may be agencies that will have to be involved later in the process. It is best to investigate this and bring these agencies on board from the start. Waiting to involve people or agencies will usually complicate the process and, in some cases, create more work and difficulty as the project moves forward.

There are various ways to involve the different members of a team. Depending on the project and the people involved, it may or may not be necessary for everyone to work closely together. However, projects that have been successful in collaboration and efficiency have had very specific plans about how to do this. In the Watershed case study on page 110, the project's success had to do largely with the coordination and teamwork that characterized each phase of work. As soon as the project was announced, all of the stakeholders were brought together to meet each other and discuss the project. Before construction began, everyone came together to go over the project details and everyone's individual responsibilities. While this process does not sound difficult, it is easy to disregard it when other aspects of a project are moving forward. Unfortunately, projects that struggle are often the ones that do not have a united or structured team of professionals. By making sure everyone working on a project knows their responsibilities, as well as everyone else's, the group can succeed as a team.


In addition to bringing together all the professionals involved in a project, it is necessary to have a community outreach plan. Engaging and informing the community from the start of a project is crucial. People want to know what is happening in their neighborhood and all outreach should be done with care. Depending on the site, the community may or may not be involved. However, they should be given a chance to learn what is going on and to present their questions or concerns. This is usually done in community meetings, but larger projects will also incorporate other techniques to inform their communities.

The Assunpink Creek Greenway project on page 80 included an outside group in their project to help with informing and engaging the community of Trenton, New Jersey. Because of the extended time frame and the large scale of the project, a collaborative of nonprofits joined together to serve as the liaison between the city of Trenton (the project manager) and the local residents. This has been extremely successful and has helped the city to give a neutral perspective to its residents and keep them up to date over the many years the project has been in progress. The Assunpink Creek Greenway and many other project teams have recognized the value of involving any interested individuals and giving them opportunities to share their questions and comments. A project that does this well will see greater community support and long-term involvement. But if this is done poorly, the community may never be willing to fully support the project. Not only can this delay a project's completion, it may also affect the overall success of a project after it is completed. When the community is involved in a project from the beginning, its members can serve as team players. Whether or not they are actively involved, they will feel more comfortable if they are informed and will consider themselves a part of the work that is being done.


There is nothing ordinary about reusing a brownfields site, so the ordinary support services available for development tend to be insufficient for brownfields. Additional and highly specialized resources and support services are needed for a brownfields project to succeed. The place to start is at the top: federal brownfields programs. These federal resources are the largest sources for support for most projects, and they also serve as a point of entry connecting brownfields developers with the broad array of state, local, legal, and insurance programs available.


Excerpted from Principles of Brownfield Regeneration by Justin B. Hollander, Niall G. Kirkwood, Julia L. Gold. Copyright © 2010 Justin B. Hollander, Niall G. Kirkwood, and Julia L. Gold. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Justin B. Hollander, AICP, is Assistant Professor in the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University. He is the author of Polluted and Dangerous: America's Worst Abandoned Properties and What Can Be Done About Them . Niall G. Kirkwood FASLA is Professor of Landscape Architecture and Technology and Director for the Center for Technology and Environment inat the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University He is the author of Manufactured Sites: Rethinking the Post-Industrial Landscape . Julia L. Gold is the Director of the Green Center at Bristol Community College. She recently received a Master's in Arts from the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University.

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