Brownfields Redevelopment: Meeting the Challenges of Community Participation

Published: May 2000
Authors: Arlene Wong, Lisa Owens-Viani

Brownfields are the abandoned or idled commercial and industrial properties that dot our urban and rural landscapes. They often remain unused because of real or perceived contamination, liability risks, and the costs of cleanup.

For brownfields redevelopment to truly fulfill its promise of neighborhood revitalization, and to be sustainable, it must offer benefits to the communities surrounding brownfield sites and break the cycle that created brownfields in the first place. The best way to do that is to make communities active participants in the redevelopment of the properties.

This report is designed to provide communities, government agencies, and private actors with sound recommendations and examples to improve and promote community participation in brownfields redevelopment. The report includes the following:

  • Chapter 1 defines brownfields and discusses issues of sustainability and environmental justice;
  • Chapter 2 provides an overview of community participation in brownfields redevelopment: community impacts and opportunities; the benefits of community participation; principles of effective community participation; and the role of communities in the redevelopment process;
  • Chapter 3 provides an overview of the formal avenues for community participation provided by state, local, and federal governments in the redevelopment process;
  • Chapter 4 identifies gaps in the formal participation processes and draws from case studies to illustrate actions taken to effectively include the community in the process;
  • Chapter 5 provides recommendations on improving community participation in the redevelopment process.

The six case studies covered include:

  • Richmond North Shoreline Area: The city of Richmond developed a brownfields program to redevelop the 900-acre North Shoreline area. While the city is trying to promote redevelopment of the area by working with property owners
    to make their sites more marketable to developers, the city has also made efforts to inform and involve nearby neighborhoods in discussions about reuse, cleanup, and redevelopment activities.
  • San Diego/Barrio Logan: Led by a local community-based organization, the Environmental Health Coalition, residents in San Diego’s Barrio Logan neighborhood have organized to relocate industrial sites located next to residences.
  • North Fork Mill site: In northern California, the North Fork Community Development Council has led an effort to purchase a 135-acre former mill site, and initiated a community process to draft a master plan for redeveloping the site.
  • Fruitvale Transit Village: The nonprofit Unity Council has led an effort to redesign and develop a proposed regional
    rail parking lot into a transit village with a health clinic, senior center, and cultural library that better integrates the transit station with the community’s business district.
  • Oakland’s old Merritt College site: North Oakland residents engaged in a lengthy battle to preserve a historic site and participate in the restoration, redesign, and redevelopment of the site into a senior center, cultural museum, community garden, housing, and hospital expansion.
  • Covina’s Edna Park: Residents in Covina, in southern California, were involved in the cleanup and restoration of a community park to protect public health and prevent the site from becoming a brownfields site.