Brownfields Practicum: Regeneration and Reuse of Brownfield Lands

Abstract: This course concerns the reclamation of sites altered by prior industrial or commercial uses and in particular those that are derelict, environmentally hazardous and located within neighborhoods and/or close to residential communities. The subject matter addresses recent advances in the legal, regulatory, environmental, economic and community landscape as well as the remediation of despoiled land in a manner that reclaims and redevelops these sites for future sustainable uses. Of interest to the instructor is how these advances can inform more progressive and creative planning and design work, and conversely, to what extent sustainable planning and design work can direct the regeneration and reuse of these urban environments. Under consideration this semester is the class of sites commonly known as brownfields.

In the preface to the publication- Brownfields, Cleaning and Reusing Contaminated Properties by C. Bartsch and E. Collaton published fourteen years ago in 1997, the authors describe the background and key issues of brownfields as follows: \”Virtually every city in the nation\’s older industrial regions, no matter its size, grapples with the challenge of unused manufacturing facilities and other industrial sites. These properties include the shuttered steel mills in western Pennsylvania and on Chicago\’s southeast side; mining operations in Montana and Arizona; closed timber mills that dot many small towns in Washington and Oregon; and declining defense contractors, metal plating factories, machine shops, and chemical plants in communities from Michigan to Mississippi. Local public officials, economic development practitioners, and plant owners who have sought to revitalize fallow industrial properties face a daunting challenge: contamination of the surrounding land and water, buildings and equipment. Public concern about health effects from chemicals, stricter environmental laws, and changing private-sector development priorities have made it increasingly difficult for communities to restore and reuse former manufacturing sites. The precise magnitude of site contamination is unknown, but it is no doubt pervasive and significant, especially in areas with manufacturing histories.\”Broadly described as waste, despoiled and contaminated, brownfields continue to be of the highest priority in the development and regeneration of urban centers.

Course Objectives:
The redevelopment of brownfields presents a unique opportunity to marry environmental, economic, public health and social goals within a single problem-solving strategy or set of strategies, and to join diverse constituencies such as the environmental lobby, private and public community developers in the process. This class introduces students to the foundations of brownfields redevelopment as well as the science and applied technology of waste site cleanup, and connects brownfields redevelopment to broader issues in environmental policy and planning such as environmental justice, public health and sustainable development. The class will review the current regulatory, economic, environmental, community, public health and development conditions of brownfields, through site visits, classroom presentations and discussions with relevant stakeholders from federal, state, city and community agencies, as well as other professionals from the legal, financial, and environmental engineering private sector. Through a practice component (the practicum) class members working in teams apply this general brownfields knowledge to particular challenges in the field on behalf of a local government and gain hands-on experience in applied environmental and economic development research and analysis, community brownfield practices, and sustainability planning.