Revitalizing Communities: Why Do Brownfields Matter?

The revitalization of brownfield sites can help move a community forward and protect the environment.

By Rebecca DeSantis | May 15, 2019 | BLOG POST

When the town of Fletcher, North Carolina, wanted to create a vibrant downtown area, it received funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields cleanup grant to help clean up a former log home manufacturing plant contaminated with dioxin and PCP.

After the city of Columbia, Missouri, found that a demolished bulk oil terminal was sitting on contaminated soil, city staff applied for an EPA brownfields grant to remove the soil and create the award-winning Flat Branch Park in the business district.

When the Gila River Indian Community in Komatke, Arizona, received a donation of a plot of land previously used by a mission, but was contaminated by underground storage units, the community received an EPA brownfields cleanup grant to clean the area and create a diabetes resource center.

The common theme among these stories is the cleanup efforts of communities to address local brownfields and revitalize land.

Since 2003, ICMA and EPA have committed to helping communities clean up and invest in brownfields by jointly organizing the National Brownfields Training Conference that regularly attracts local government leaders, developers, end-users of redeveloped brownfields sites, and investors. What draws leaders to discuss this important topic? Below is some information about the role brownfields can play in revitalizing communities.

What are brownfields?

Brownfields are rural or urban industrial commercial sites that are abandoned or underused because of real or perceived contamination. Communities across the country face the challenge of putting these idle sites back to work, from old industrial cities with thousands of acres of abandoned factories to rural villages built around derelict mines or timber mills. Brownfields are a valuable community resource that, through redevelopment and reuse, could easily bring important benefits to many economically depressed communities or serve as the centerpiece in comprehensive redevelopment strategies.

EPA has estimated that there are several hundred thousand brownfields sites around the United States, many of which are inhibiting neighborhood and community revitalization.

Why are brownfields important?

According to EPA, “Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties increases local tax bases, facilitates job growth, utilizes existing infrastructure, takes development pressures off of undeveloped, open land, and improves and protects the environment.”

Tad McGalliard, ICMA Director of Research and Development, writes in a December 2017 Public Management article titled, Brownfields as a Mainstream Investment, “It can be argued that one of the most innovative and successful outcomes to emerge from the past 30 years of sustainability are the policies, programs, public-private partnerships, and more that have been created to help clean up and reuse brownfields.” He explains that local government community redevelopment goals help with local planning and citizen engagement, and financial tools help support redevelopment goals.

McGalliard shares that ICMA survey data show managers have these reasons to believe communities should invest both human and financial resources in brownfields actions:

  • Protect the environment, as well as the public health of local and regional residents.
  • Eliminate blight and increase local tax bases.
  • Create jobs and economic opportunity.
  • Prep land for new commercial activities to develop.
  • Create more livable communities.

What are the benefits of the EPA Brownfields Program?

The brownfields program creates many benefits for local communities, as highlighted below.


ICMA and EPA are gearing up for the 2019 National Brownfields Training Conference in Los Angeles, California, December 10-13, 2019.

Do you have expertise with brownfields revitalization and want to be a part of the conference? Respond to the call for ideas for the conference today!

Submit an Idea


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