Redeveloping Urban Space and the National Brownfields Conference

Debski 1I traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to attend the National Brownfields Conference. Now you might ask, what is a Brownfield? As defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Brownfields are real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.” The National Brownfields Conference is a three day event held every other year where people involved in the redevelopment of Brownfields gather for educational sessions, networking, workshops, tours and more.

The opening plenary session kicked off the conference with Ryan Gravel presenting on the Atlanta BeltLine. This project is a great example of transforming old railways into something new and sustainable. When completed, the Atlanta BeltLine will be a 22-mile loop of parks, trail, and light rail around Atlanta, redeveloping a brownfield site to be usable for everyone. This project gave an overview of what the entire conference was about, redeveloping contaminated areas to be usable.

Another big Brownfield revitalization project in the Atlanta area is Aerotropolis. This project is located right next to the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport at an old Ford Assembly plant. This project worked to demolish the old assembly plant and create a new redevelopment, a “mini-city”. This project not only had the challenge of cleaning up a Brownfield site. It was also located extremely close to an airport, which added to the challenges. The airport had various lights on the existing buildings that provided lighting for the airport and, because the airport was so close, there were many restrictions including height restrictions for future developments. Although this project is encountering many challenges, its site will become home to the Porsche Cars North America offices and a test track facility. This project is another example of what a Brownfield site can become.

Not only did I attend sessions on the redevelopment of Brownfields, but I also attended a few movie screenings. Of the movie screenings I attended, “Bag It” was my favorite. This documentary went through the effects of plastic bags, not only on the environment, but also on our own health. After watching this movie, I became even more aware about the amount of plastic I use on a daily basis and wonder why plastic bags are continued to be used. Some cities are starting to ban “single-use” plastic bags or charge a fee to get plastic bags to carry any goods purchased in. It may seem hard to live without plastic bags, but this movie showed that saying no to plastic is possible, even using reusable bags/sacks for fruits and vegetables purchased at the grocery store. I recommend that everyone watch “Bag It” to understand the dangers of not only plastic bags, but plastic in general.

Attending the National Brownfields Conference helped me to realize the potential of Brownfield sites. There are many contaminated sites in the Boston area from old abandoned warehouses and factories that can be cleaned up, reused and redeveloped to be useful areas for people to use rather than being eyesores.

Meghan Debski, Civil Engineering