Project Management

From the Ground Up: Brownfield Redevelopments Can Provide Relief for Crowded Cities

Sarah Fister Gale

In 2016, more than half of the world's 7.4 billion people lived in urban areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2030, 1 in 3 will live in cities with at least half a million people, a 2016 United Nations report says.

Developing brownfield sites offers a promising solution. By transforming unused industrial locations, ranging from former shipyards to abandoned smelting facilities, project teams can help deliver thriving new mixed-use neighborhoods with condos, retail, office space and community gardens. Breathing new life into plots with checkered pasts helps cities meet growing housing demands—without sacrificing precious green spaces.

However, these redevelopment projects often come with controversy. Brownfield sites can be tainted with toxins left by their former owners, which can make transformations a risky endeavor. If the contamination isn't well understood, skyrocketing remediation costs can explode project budgets. And if the community isn't convinced the cleanup will get the job done, protests can delay or doom development.

Keeping brownfield redevelopment projects on track requires creating a clear multi-stakeholder communication and implementation plan from the start, says Cindy Brooks, president of the Greenfield Environmental Trust Group, an environmental remediation and redevelopment consultancy in Watertown, Massachusetts, USA.

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