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What's a brownfield?

Pros and Cons to Developing a Brownfield


Cleaning up and reinvesting in brownfields combines environmental benefits with economic development and social improvement. Planners, developers and local stakeholders come together to improve their communities by turning these blighted properties into sustainable reuses. Brownfields are located in urban, suburban or rural areas; they help clean up cities, grow suburbs and alleviate pressure to develop green spaces.

Developing untouched, pristine land usually requires building new infrastructure, which can be expensive. But brownfield developers often save money because of existing infrastructure like water and sewer lines, electricity, roads and accessibility to public transportation.

Besides environmental benefits, redeveloping these derelict locations can have social and economic perks. Dilapidated industrial sites can transform into thriving office buildings, apartments, luxury mixed-use facilities, shopping centers, public parks and more. Brownfield redevelopment can breathe new life into neighborhoods and spur the transformation of entire cities by attracting people into a community core for work or play. Such efforts increase local tax bases and facilitate job growth, according to the EPA.

However, brownfields can be complicated and costly to resuscitate after years of inactivity and neg­lect.

­A brownfield is real property, which means it can include much more than just land, such as buildings, crops or mineral rights. Redeveloping, expanding or reusing a brownfield includes the land and everything attached to it. Consequently, environmental remediation is often costly, and financing can be difficult to acquire, says Robert Duncan, associate deputy assistant secretary for economic development with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Plus, the permit process is notoriously slow.

Additionally, it's common for brownfields to be located in places where there are no other developable and/or attractive areas, according to HUD. The idea is that if the site is an eyesore or has no desirable locations nearby for people to frequent, people won't come. And if people don't come, the revitalized property may not be able to sustain itself.

­Want to find out about real-world success stories? Flip the page to read about some stand-out brownfield projects that went from wasteland to wow.