Creating Community-Based Brownfields Redevelopment Strategies

It is estimated that there are more than 450,000 brownfield sites in the U.S. In many brownfield redevelopment projects, community groups are frequently left out of the process. However, they represent the main constituency that suffers from the negative impact of vacant and abandoned brownfield sites.

The purpose of Creating Community-Based Brownfield Redevelopment Strategies is twofold: first, it is designed to help community-based organizations (CBOs) recognize that brownfields are opportunities for neighborhood revitalization, and, second, it provides critical information to help local CBOs participate more effectively in the complicated process of brownfield cleanup and redevelopment. This guide intends to empower residents to actively and effectively participate in brownfield site redevelopment and understand how different development strategies will benefit their communities.

Creating Community-Based Brownfield Redevelopment Strategies

In 2005, the American Planning Association was the recipient of a Brownfields Training, Research, and Technical Assistance Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The result of this three-year initiative, which involved community leaders, community members, and others working to revitalize low-income and disadvantaged communities, is the 2010 guide to redeveloping brownfield sites.

Project Overview

Since community-based organizations (CBOs) and residents will come to the table with varying degrees of knowledge about brownfields and the redevelopment process, Creating Community-Based Brownfield Redevelopment Strategies covers both very basic information and more complex issues. The range of information covered in this guide therefore is applicable to a beginner to intermediate user.

1: Brownfield Basics

This section provides readers with an overview of brownfields, including a comprehensive definition and an explanation of the laws and regulations shaping brownfield cleanup and redevelopment. In addition, this section discusses the problems and opportunities presented by brownfields.

2: The Brownfield Redevelopment Process

The process of remediating and redeveloping a brownfield site can be complicated and time consuming. This section describes the six basic steps of the brownfield redevelopment process, which include:

Step 1: Develop a Community Vision
Step 2: Identify Brownfield Sites
Step 3: Assess Level of Contamination
Step 4: Determine Reuse Options
Step 5: Evaluate Cleanup Options
Step 6: Implement a Redevelopment Plan

3: Community Visioning

The community visioning process is a consensus-driven, public participation process that results in a cohesive vision for a targeted area. Section 3 describes the community visioning process, who has a role in the process, and why it matters in brownfields redevelopment. This section provides:

  • a definition and explanation of the different stakeholders;
  • a definition and explanation of the community vision and visioning process;
  • an overview of how to build public support for a brownfields redevelopment project and maintain momentum over the long-term; and
  • details strategies for how to influence the development of community-friendly brownfields policies.

4: Brownfields Cleanup

Environmental cleanup of brownfields is governed by complex and often overlapping federal, state, local, and tribal laws. Since the regulatory framework associated with remediating brownfields can be complicated, this section provides a broad overview of cleanup and legal issues that often arise during the redevelopment of brownfield sites. This section also outlines many of the critical brownfields cleanup issues, including:

  • how to determine cleanup liability and understanding options for liability protection;
  • cleanup options, the technology and costs;
  • determining the level of cleanup necessary for the intended use;
  • how to involve the community in cleanup decisions; and
  • advice on selecting a technical consultant and environmental lawyer.

5: Brownfields Finance 101

Remediating and redeveloping a brownfield site can be complicated and costly. Private investment, coupled with public funding, makes community-based redevelopment efforts possible. This section focuses on the pertinent information involved in financing brownfield cleanup and redevelopment by describing the:

  • various sources of public and private funding available for site assessment, cleanup, and redevelopment; and
  • contractual approaches and insurance products that can be used to reduce and control cleanup costs.

Additional resources on brownfield site assessment, cleanups, and redevelopment (pdf)


APA's research department undertook this project, working in close collaboration with Bethel New Life, Inc., a Chicago-based CDC with extensive experience in brownfields redevelopment issues. APA and Bethel also worked with the Center for Public Environmental Oversight (CPEO), an organization that promotes and facilitates public participation in environmental activities, including brownfields, to create the guide.

Bethel New Life, Inc.

Bethel New Life, Inc. is a nonprofit faith-based community development corporation located and working in Chicago's West Garfield Park neighborhood.

Bethel New Life logoBethel is nationally known for its pioneering community development initiatives, especially in the arenas of sustainable urban community, smart growth in an urban context, and brownfields redevelopment. Bethel has been a part of the cleanup and redevelopment of seven brownfields sites in Chicago that have provided major economic stimuli to a low-income community.

As a result of this experience, Bethel staff has led workshops at U.S. EPA conferences, sustainable community conferences, and as a part of the environmental curriculum of the University of Delaware.

Center for Public Environmental Oversight

The Center for Public Environmental Oversight (CPEO) is an organization that promotes and facilitates public participation in the oversight of environmental activities, including but not limited to the remediation of federal facilities, private "Superfund" sites, and brownfields.

CPEO logoIt was formed in 1992 as CAREER/PRO (the California Economic Recovery and Environmental Restoration Project) by the San Francisco Urban Institute, in response to the large number of military base closures in the San Francisco Bay Area. It draws upon the nearly three decades of work led by CPEO Director Lenny Siegel at the Pacific Studies Center, a nonprofit public interest information center in nearby Mountain View, California.

Brownfields Resources

The Creating Community-Based Brownfields Redevelopment Strategies Resource List contains books, articles, and government document citations. The list is part of a continuous process and may be considered a literature review as well as a resource list for the project.

Brownfields Resource List (pdf)

Materials were chosen for the resource list based on several criteria, including relevance to the topics of brownfield redevelopment and the participation of community-based groups, timelines, and the ability to convey concepts accurately and concisely.

The goal of this document is to highlight those materials that discuss the topics of brownfields and redevelopment as they intersect with community organizations. The resource list is arranged under the following topics:

  1. Asset Based Community Development
  2. Brownfields
  3. Community Development
  4. Citizen Participation Techniques
  5. Environmental Justice
  6. Financing
  7. Allied Organizations