Brownfields are the “it” thing

As a landscape architecture student nothing is more hip or edgy in many of our minds than the reuse of a brownfield. There are examples from every stretch of the world from Germany with Duisberg -Nord http://www.landschaftspark.de/startseite, China with for example Zhongshan Shipyard Park, http://www.turenscape.com/home.php, or our own well known Highline, http://www.thehighline.org/. I’m actually blown away when I type in the term “brownfields” and spell check doesn’t recognize it.

These often post-industrial, semi-forgotten sites tend to be located on waterways where they were easily accessible for transport of goods, and centrally located for workers. While the placement of such industries was especially harmful to the environment during the majority of their past lifetime, they now have come to act as a holding place in the landscape, often large swaths of land in prime locations nestled in ever densifying urban cores. These condemned sites in numerous cases are so polluted you cant enter them without a breathing apparatus, yet have become a huge draw to real-estate interests and designers alike who see dollar signs along with the abandoned silos or gas tanks. The increased interest in a specific area is for once able to bring together real estate profit, environmental improvement, and the creative class.

In browsing through PlaNYC I was happily surprised to see an entire section dedicated to the issues surrounding brownfields. To this day and in the recent past brownfield sites have been huge deterrents for development due to the bureaucratic hoops associated with their clean-up. Brownfield sites, often located in dense urban environments, have been much more expensive to develop than their suburban counterparts and therefore often don’t compete leading to increased sprawl by sometimes well meaning developers who simply can’t make the clean-up process pencil out.

I personally don’t know what lead to the inclusion of the brownfield section of PlaNYC be it realized economic gains, sustainability PR, or a personal political mission but, I’m glad it’s there and hope other cities who have been closely watching the recent planning initiatives in NYC has taken note. Brownfield development is beneficial across the board it’s for once an issue I hope we can all agree on.

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