Growing the Contaminated City: Using Phytoremediation and Risk Abatement as an Urban Generator

Abstract

The Northeast Corridor is lined with underused or abandoned industrial zones. These former commercial hubs are left littered with harmful contaminants and branded with the stigma of being a “brownfield.” This stigma renders a site quarantined from the rest of the city. When a brownfield site is slated for reuse, the process for cleanup often results in either capping – a process of covering and sealing the land – or the land is removed. These processes take time and money, and are generally left unfinished due to the legal and health risks associated with brownfields. A third process, phytoremediation, a strategy that relies on the natural growth process of select plants to remove ground contaminants, while less costly can take 25-50 years and must be kept segregated from public use during the process. Instead of condemning central parts of the urban fabric on the basis of contaminated land, I propose the creation of a new, elevated urbanism, generated from a marriage of passive remediation and risk abatement strategies. Brownfield remediation should not inhibit urban growth but encourage it, generating an architectural and urban typology of its own. This typology, based on stilt construction and elevated paths, provides an open, undisturbed ground plane for remediation, while still allowing for the public to experience the new, vegetative landscape. To test this proposal of a new urbanism the former I-95/I-195 corridor located in the Jewelry District of Providence, RI and a new Life Sciences Campus for Brown University was chosen.