By Lora Karaoglu Brownfields The Criteria for Environmental Justice and Public Participation

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By Lora Karaoglu Brownfields The Criteria for Environmental Justice and Public Participation
Department of Sociology & Anthropology
Northeastern University
May 2004
Brownfields Redevelopment:
The Criteria for Environmental Justice and Public Participation
(Cases from Worcester and Lawrence, Massachusetts)
By Lora Karaoglu
May 2004
(Presented at ESS Conference)
Northeastern University
Department of Sociology & Anthropology
Boston, Massachusetts
Environmental Justice Research Collaborative (NEJRC) at Northeastern University
Working Paper Series
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Northeastern University
May 2004
Brownfields and environmental justice are inextricably linked…The vision of environmental
justice is the development of a holistic, bottom up, community-based, multi-issue, crosscutting, integrative, and unifying paradigm for achieving healthy and sustainable
communities—both urban and rural (Lee 1996: es-I)
Creating a better future depends, in part, on the knowledge and involvement of citizens and on
a decision making process that embraces and encourages differing perspectives of those
affected by government policy. Steps toward a more sustainable future include developing
community-driven strategic planning (Bryne 1999:13: Quoting PCSD 1996:83)
Environmental justice issues are often linked with brownfields due to the unfortunate
history of discriminatory zoning and land-use decisions that has left a legacy of brownfields
localized in communities of low-income, ethnic and racial minorities. Moreover, policies and
practices have kept these affected communities from participating fully in decision-making
processes and contributed to the conditions that create brownfields and concerns about
environmental justice. The creation and continued existence of brownfields are
environmentally unsustainable practices. Furthermore, the brownfield issue is created by
multiple factors and there is a need to get various groups and institutions, especially those
communities affected by brownfields, involved in developing policies and approaches to
resolve this environmental crisis and justice issues for the future.
The central research focus of this paper is to examine the criteria for environmental
justice and public participation within the context of brownfield redevelopment. Specifically,
to determine the extent to which environmental justice is compromised and what is the role of
community participation within the context of environmental justice in brownfield
redevelopment. In this paper, I start with an overview of brownfields’ creation, and the
respective redevelopment policy and programs. It then locates both environmental justice and
public participation within a contextual/theoretical framework. I argue that linking
environmental justice with brownfields redevelopment along with empowered community
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May 2004
participation is imperative for sustainable development. I finally make suggestions for the
“best practices” in brownfields redevelopment.
Placing Brownfields in Context
The literature available for the study of brownfields raised questions about their
creation. For instance, what are the factors which are considered as environmental justice
issues that contributed to the creation of brownfields, and how did the brownfields issue
evolve to a crisis state? Brownfields as a concept was first instituted by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the early 1990s. The EPA defines brownfields as
“abandoned, idled, or under-used industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or
redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.” (Davis &
Margolis 1977: 5) As cited throughout the literature, brownfields pose a public health risk
and an environmental hazard owing to their very nature (Hofrichter 2000; Getches & Pellow
2002). These sites need to be remediated permanently otherwise contamination from these
sites can easily spread to neighboring properties, affecting both the soil and the groundwater
(Shutkin 2000). Since these sites are often located in residential areas and retail centers, fences
and warning signs do not usually work. Further, if these sites are left open, in most cases, they
create insecurity situation among children and the homeless, disproportionately affecting
communities of color and the poor.
The shift from manufacturing to a service sector based economy, increased global and
national competition, created white flight, caused demographic changes, and the steady loss of
industrial and manufacturing businesses, left behind thousands of abandoned, contaminated
sites. Although brownfield sites can be found throughout the country, many sites are located
in the Northeast and Midwest, where manufacturing industry was dominant (Dennison 1998).
More specifically, the factors that contributed to the creation of brownfields include
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development, land-use decision-making, suburban sprawl, and the globalization of capital
(Urban Habitat 2002). As Shutkin (2000) explains, development “refers to the public and
private actions that affect the way in which land and natural resources are used for the
purposes of production, consumption, and conservation.” (50). Hence, all environmental
impacts including contaminated land-or brownfields, water pollution or habitat destruction are
the result of development process (Ibid.) The purpose of development and land-use is to
establish the organization of physical space and the distribution of various human activities on
specific parcel of lands. (Shutkin & Mares 2000) In doing so, the forces of production and
consumption facilitate development and land-use through decision-making process which
affects many communities.
In the 1950s, development and land-use decisions created mobility among Americans,
leading to their settling in suburban areas. Suburbanization is the most significant land-use
trend of the past half century (Shutkin 2000, 50). The alteration of the ecosystem, creating
newer types of land use, such as, shopping malls, roadways, corporate office buildings, led to
various environmental impacts (Bryne 1999; Shutkin& Mayer 2000). Although both cities and
suburbs suffered the effects of industrial flight and economic transformation, suburbs have
been able to attract reinvestment capital by expanding other employment sectors, the innercities have not been that fortunate (Shutkin 2000; Kleinewski 2002).
Many land-use decisions in the past were socially inequitable and racially and
economically discriminatory in nature, contributing to the unequal distribution of both burden
and benefit (Lee, 1996, 42). The brownfields, for instance, tend to be disproportionately
concentrated in distressed urban areas with a poverty-stricken population and communities of
color (Davis & Margolis 1997; Garson 1997; Shutkin 2000). Although zoning and zoning
decisions serve as an effective tool for local governments’ planning the discriminatory
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May 2004
decisions and the lack of community participation have affected the low-income and people of
color communities (Bartsh & Collaton 1997; Pepper 1997; Urban Habitat 2002). Brownfields
go together with other traits of urban decay (Wong 1999; 2001). Most often, they are found in
blighted areas with depressed property values or polluting industries. Therefore, the sites,
where brownfields are located are faced with depreciated property values (Shutkin 2000;
Goldstein et al. 2001; Singer 2001).
The globalization of capital has also contributed to the creation of brownfields (Urban
Habitat 2002). In the U.S., after the 1950s, and especially by the mid-70s, the economic
restructuring that impacted cities resulted in a declining centralized manufacturing industries
while increasing the decentralized service sector. As a result of changing the change in nature
of the economy, some of the jobs moved from cities to suburbs, while others moved from one
region to another. Many companies closed their urban facilities, taking the jobs with them to
suburban areas, or moved to overseas, thus increasing technology-facilitated company
movements after the 1950s. Also, due to increased competition at global and national levels,
companies became interested in low taxes and cheap labor. As Faber (1998:2) argued,
ecological problems in the U.S. and issues of environmental justice are originated from the
global capitalist system. The aim of multinational corporations and financial institutions,
which ignore unions, and disregard environmental regulations while undermining the health
and safety of its workers in the “North”, is aided by the GATT, NAFTA, and other such trade
agreements (Faber 1998, Shutkin 2000, Urban Habitat 2002). These trade agreements, in
particular, facilitated the companies to choose their business locations for profit in the “South”
and the “East” creating disinvestment in U.S. cities. In this case, countries in the “South” and
the “East” are also target for brownfield sites by the former companies of the “North” (Urban
Habitat 2002).
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Brownfields have been an universal environmental threat in the U.S. from even before the
1990s (Shutkin 2000). According to Davis and Margolis (1997), the creation of brownfields
and the failure to address their redevelopment effectively, led the brownfields issue to evolve
into a crisis state. A certain number of forces played a pivotal role, such as the unintended
effect of environmental laws on brownfields redevelopment; enforcement policies that target
lenders; and an ignorance of the science of contaminated property.
Overview of Brownfields Redevelopment Programs and Policies:
Environmental Justice Criteria
The literature surrounding this study raises questions regarding the effectiveness of
brownfield programs, policies, and regulations at federal, state and local levels. Following the
prolonged use and disposal of toxins and chemicals for several years for the sake of profit,
even under the new environmental regulations, cleaning up of those sites is both expensive
and poses great challenge. Brownfield redevelopment programs aim at cleaning up and
redeveloping industrial and commercial properties, which were abandoned or underutilized
due to real or perceived contamination. Brownfield redevelopment programs also aimed at
additional cleaning up of more undeveloped areas on the urban fringe, “greenfields” from
development, to improve the adverse land-use environmental and social effects of sprawl
(Shutkin &Mares 200). The most cited issues associated with brownfields redevelopment
include funding, environmental clean up cost, fear of liability, environmental justice and
community participation.
Brownfields programs can be examined under federal, regional, and state level as well as
local since brownfield issues exists in many communities in every state. EPAs brownfield
programs address four categories of brownfields redevelopment: national pilot project,
clarification of liability issues for property owners and potential property owners, partnerships
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May 2004
and educational outreach, and job development and training. In 1993, the EPA as the leading
agency was charged with implementing Brownfield Legislation. The Brownfields Economic
Redevelopment Initiative and Agenda was created in 1995. According to this agenda, the goal
of the pilot programs was to test redevelopment methods, coordinate stakeholders’
involvement while eliminating barriers and maintaining high level of protection for the sake
of both the environment and human-health (Dennison, 1998). The agenda also focused on
issues relating to liability and clean-up for prospective purchases, lenders, property owners
while providing them assistance from EPA enforcement in case of mutual agreement in the
clean-up and redevelopment process (Wells, Jr. 1997).
One of the constraints related to brownfield development is funding options at the
federal and state levels. Some of the financial backing of brownfield related EPA programs
originate from the Superfund. The Superfund, which was established by Comprehensive
Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), provides funding for
brownfield projects. According to this act, lenders hold the ownership title in a property but
are excluded from participating in the management of the facility, and so are not strictly liable
for either damages or cleanup costs. When the bank seeks to foreclose a brownfield property,
problems of liability for environmental damage (under CERCLA) begin to emerge. The only
way to escape such a liability is to claim to be an “innocent landowner”, but the court usually
denies such claims (Dennison 1998). CERCLA was also discouraged brownfields
redevelopment by having ambiguous remedial objectives. ‘How clean is clean enough? ’is one
of the frequently raised questions as far as brownfield redevelopment and environmental
justice is concerned.
The EPA, while administering the body of Superfund under CERCLA, focuses on
assessing and cleaning-up the “most” contaminated sites first on the on the National Priority
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List (NPL) (Hula, 2001). Brownfields are not included on the NPL since they are not
considered to be contaminated enough. However, sites that do not meet NPL criteria are
covered under state legislation through mini-Superfund statutes, which provide individual
states with the authority to force potentially responsible parties (PRPs) to cleanup the
contaminated sites (Shutkin 2000).
In order to remove barriers associated with Superfund programs, the EPA eliminated
24,000 locations from CERCLA. However, this action, as Wells, Jr., (1997) states, increases
the environmental risk associated with the implementation of less stringent environmental
controls on contaminated sites. Once the risk of federal liability is removed, developers
become more interested in brownfield redevelopment projects. Moreover, the Community
Reinvestment Act (CRA) within the Brownfield Agenda was revised, allowing lenders to
include money loaned for clean-up or redevelopment of brownfields (Bartsch & Collaton
In 2002, the legislation passed a bill that provides additional funding, including grants
for assessment and cleanup, and regulatory relief for potential brownfield redevelopment
programs (Urban Habitat 2002). The Bush Administration also provides relief for small
business owners by exempting certain small volume contributions and certain contributors of
municipal solid waste from Superfund liability. Besides, the legislation is also simplified the
“innocent landowner” defense to Superfund liability (Urban Habitat 2002).
The New England:
On a regional level, EPA-New England has created the Targeted Site Assessment
Program and New England Brownfield Initiative in order to assist communities in the
redevelopment process. On the state level, for instance in Massachusetts, the Executive Office
of Environmental Affairs issued the Massachusetts Brownfield Strategy in 1997. In 1992,
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Chapter 21E (Massachusetts’ Superfund regulations) was amended to increase clean-up
responsibility of private parties on the one hand while allowing for more flexibility in cleanup
process, on the other (Abelson et al. 1997). The Office of Brownfields Revitalization, which
was established in 1999, functions to popularize the various business incentives available
under brownfield redevelopment.
The major division of brownfield programs in Massachusetts provides both financial
incentives (grants, loans for the assessment and cleanup of state-designated economically
distressed areas) and non-financial incentives (flexible risk-based cleanup standards, increased
liability protection and reduced state oversight) (Abelson et al. 1997). The Brownfields Pilot
Program covers assessment demonstration pilot, revolving loan fund programs, targeted
brownfields assessments, and job training programs. These pilot programs are aimed at
exploring innovative approaches and effective policies to tackle brownfields by setting up
representative projects such as “Showcase Communities.” Besides, Voluntary Clean-up
Programs (VCP) is also being implemented, which are privatized cleanup processes. Licensed
Site Professionals (LSPs) are another aspect worth mentioning although their service-value is
questionable from environmental justice point of view, i.e. it is not evident whether LPSs
work for public or private sector, or for themselves. However, the “smart growth” programs
are being promoted by focusing on economic, “livable communities initiative” to support state
and local smart growth efforts (Hise & Nelson 1999). These local initiatives support
community participation in the decision making process.
At the local level, brownfield policies demand financial penalties such as foreclosures,
abandonment taxes, registration fees, and special programs encouraging the reuse of vacant
sites (Urban Habitat 2002). Following the EPA’s initiatives, local governments also initiated
efforts, had conferences, and declared brownfield redevelopment as its top national priority
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while supporting redevelopment and revitalization of suffering urban centers (Wong 1999).
On the other hand, some local governments, like in Worcester, established quasigovernmental authorities (such as Worcester Redevelopment Authority –WRA) to undertake
complex brownfield projects in Central Massachusetts, and to revitalize the old manufacturing
city of Worcester, as described below.
Environmental justice scholars are critiquing that some brownfield regulations result in
compromising the principles of environmental justice. For instance, certain contaminants may
remain in the sites, and such activities fall under the Risk Based Corrective Action (RBCA).
In this case, the site would still be potentially harmful to human health and the environment.
Others, however, argue that the use of RBCA is “a technically defensible process while
ensuring the most appropriate and cost effective remedies and allocation of resources.”
(Gargas & Long 1997: 223) It also follows that using universal cleanup standards has led to
“proliferation of RBCA, which replaced with the highest standard, residential use, involving
physical removal or breaking down of contaminants into less harmful materials.” (Urban
Habitat 2002:12)
A review of former environmental laws shows that centralized command-control
enforcement approaches have been replaced with incentives in brownfield redevelopment.
Also, most of the state programs in the country include legal incentives for private developers
while exempting them from liability and government funded financial incentives (Dennison
1998). From the point of view of environmental justice, the final level of cleanup is important
to keep in mind since due to the voluntary limitation of future uses and activities on a site, in
the form of an Activity and Use Limitation (AUL) less stringent clean-up is permitted
(Shutkin 2000). This implies that sites intended for commercial or industrial use have a lower
remediation standard than residential development. As such, the community’s future
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development opportunity becomes limited. In addition to prior discriminatory practices in
land use decision–making, legally reducing the level of remediation has an immense impact
on communities of brownfield sites. Therefore, environmental justice activists are against
such AULs since future use of brownfield sites will eternalize past inequalities.
It has been argued that a stronger government enforcement is needed, but without
using a market-oriented approach. Instead of reducing environmental justice issues for
brownfield communities and redevelopment processes, the environmental policy in place
removed barriers for developers who feared about environmental liabilities. Market-oriented,
media-based approaches gained interest from PRPs and the private sector became dominant,
instead of command and control, which is also inappropriate as Shutkin & Mares (2000) have
argued. Simultaneously, limited liability put more burdens on the public sector rather than
private sector which is responsible for their actions in contamination of brownfields
(Dennison 1998; Shutkin 2000; Urban Habitat 2002).
As Dennison (1998) argued, brownfields redevelopment is not driven by
environmental cleanup but the driving force behind federal and state brownfields initiatives is
primarily an economic one, aimed at economic revitalization of blighted urban areas. This is
the reason brownfield programs are geared towards rapid site clean-up so that the productivity
of the land is restored within a very short period of time while entailing less environmental
and financial risks for potential developers (Dennison 1998). As Dennison (1998:xx) states,
“brownfield programs present a shift in environmental policy”.
Further, the policies fail to address potential impacts of brownfield development, such
as displacing poverty-stricken, people of color via gentrification and subsequent increases in
property values and rents. Both “regulatory streamlining and liability relief” efforts benefit the
private sector while undermining social equity measures for brownfield-affected communities
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(Urban Habitat 2002 12). In this case, it is guaranteed that property owners or developers
participating in Voluntary Cleanup Programs are not responsible for any future cleanup
activities. In addition, the Locally Unwanted Land Uses (LULUs) constitute another problem
in brownfield redevelopment (Shutkin 2000, Urban Habitat 2002). Especially types of LULU,
such as prisons, nuclear power plants, and casinos invite more economic and social problems.
Also, property devaluation of urban brownfields cause substantial issues in brownfield
redevelopment of properties.
As Davis & Margolis (1997) argue, many people see the brownfields redevelopment
initiative as a way to rectify past environmental injustices. They would like to transform
abandoned brownfield into productive “greenfields.” However, redeveloping brownfields
sites to facilitate further industrial use does not rectify past environmental injustices. Hence,
environmental justice scholars firmly state that brownfield sites should be geared towards
supporting positive, environmentally clean uses instead. However, this view, which is a
valuable one, does not get much support from either developers or investors since a greater
level of clean-up is required. This additional remediation only increases the project cost
without contributing to the profit. Therefore there is a tension between the community, which
is primarily concerned with a safe and clean site as, opposed to developers who seeks to make
more profit out of redeveloped brownfields. Environmental justice advocates are working to
ensure that brownfields are not replaced by other polluting or otherwise unsafe entities.
Environmental Justice in the Context of Brownfield Redevelopment:
Contextual/Theoretical Framework
The two concepts, brownfields and environmental justice, appear together throughout
the literature. The goal of environmental justice is “to provide equal access for all citizen to a
safe and healthy environment while addresses to unequal distribution and exposure to
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environmental contamination.” (Rowan and Fridgen 2003: 30). Environmental justice was
institutionalized by the presidential proclamation of Executive Order 12898, which was
signed by Former President Clinton, and is considered as one of the important statutes:
…shall make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and
addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or
environment effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations
and low-income populations in the United States (Getches & Pellow 2002: 15).
One of the promises of brownfield redevelopment is to create environmental justice by
addressing issues of environmental inequality. Many scholars raise questions regarding
whether environmental justice can be associated with every injustice related to the
environment. Many scholars argue that environmental justice encompass uneven distribution
of benefits and effects of environmental regulation and natural resources policy, and
unjustness in admittance and exclusion in decision-making process. It is argued that
everything to do with environmental policy may not be fair to someone who get less or more
resources whereas others get less or more pollution. For instance, “what about a landowner
who claims “unfairness” when a parcel of land loses much of its value because of zoning or
environmental laws prevent it from being fully developed?” (Getches & Pellow 2002:21).
Some scholars raise question of what would be an operational definition of
environmental justice in order to attain policies and programs for action (Getches & Pellow
2002). Hence, the definition is “to include types of issues while limiting the types of
communities who have a claim to environmental justice” (Ibid:17). Communities need to
make their decisions about environmental issues that affect them in their neighborhood. That
means inclusion and participation are crucial in this expanded field of environmental justice
movement. Accordingly, another question that features frequently related to which
communities are targeted by initiatives towards rendering environmental justice. Getches &
Pellow (2002) say “Can anyone, regardless of race or poverty, who has ever cried “NIMBY!”
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(not-in-my-backyard) join to the movement? Is a business owner who legally sends toxic
chemicals to a landfill years ago and now is retroactively liable under the “Superfund” law for
cost of cleaning up the dump a victim of environmental injustice?” (p. 24). They argue that
the “community” needs to be specified such as “disadvantaged communities” (especially who
live near brownfields sites) who can have a claim towards environmental justice (Ibid: 25).
Early studies on environmental justice had a narrow focus (Bullard 1994; United
Church of Christ 1987). For instance, in a study about one black community’s battle against a
landfill, Dumping in Dixie, Bullard explores the social impacts of environmental racism as
experienced by local populations and the growing environmental justice movement (Getches
& Pellow 2002). Also, in 1987, a United Church of Christ study found that race is the single
most important predictor of the location of the hazardous waste facilities and factories
(Hofrichter 1993). Bryant (1995) defines environmental racism as “the unequal protection
against toxic and hazardous waste exposure and the systematic exclusion of people of color
from environmental decisions affecting their communities” (pp.5-6). In 1992, UN’s Rio de
Janeiro Conference brought together many human rights and environmental justice activists
throughout the word. When the perception of the environmental inequality evolves then “the
scope of environmental justice” problems (Getches & Pellow 2002) or traditional
environmental justice also extends beyond the impacts of unequal pollution and hazardous
sites (Hofrichter 1993; 2000).
A specific component of the issue of environmental injustices is Title VI complaints
(one of the issues in brownfields redevelopment) which are one method of minimizing the
occurrence of biased environmental decision-making (Bryner 2001). Title VI is another issue
that some perspectives have closely associated with environmental justice. Title VI prohibits
recipients of federal assistance from discriminating on the basis of race, color and national
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origin in their program (Cole & Foster 2001). These regulations are significant for
environmental justice because communities that largely consist of ethic minorities often face
disproportionate environmental and industrial offenses as a result of new or historical location
of industrial facilities (such as brownfields). State agencies are responsible for citing noncompliant facilities in such communities otherwise they can lose their EPA funding if they fail
to do so. According to Bryant (1995), environmental justice
...is a broader in scope than environmental equity. It refers to those cultural norms and
values, rules, regulations, behaviors, policies, and decisions to support sustainable
communities where people can interact with confidence that their environment is safe,
nurturing, and productive. Environmental justice is served when people realize their
highest potential, without experiencing the ‘isms”. Environmental justice is supported
by decent paying and safe jobs; quality schools and recreation; decent housing and
adequate health care; democratic decision making and personal empowerment.. These
communities are…respected where distributed justice prevails… (6).
Bryant’s definition, which is broader than environmental equity, serves as the goals of
environmental justice rather than the agenda and addresses the causes of environmental justice
issues, while identifying social conditions to lessen those issues. Having linked environmental
justice issues with multiple social and economic problems, Bryant claims that the
environmental justice problem penetrates into public and industrial policy, land use, national
health care and the needs of indigenous people. The solutions to environmental justice issues
exceed the capacity of many people and organizations. To understand the causes of social
injustice, agencies and activists need to set up an agenda first, in order to overcome the
struggle over injustice. The EPA’s administrative capacity is not flexible in responding to
particular environmental issues. Thus, there is a need to implement not merely environmental
justice, but operational environmental justice, in order to set their goals for the struggle
against injustice and create an agenda to attain their goals.
Bryner (2002) contends that environmental justice needs to be expanded “to include
access to natural resources” with an emphasis on “the environmental justice agenda” (32). The
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critical task is to define an environmental problem and choose a central strategy that can
tackle this issue (such as brownfield redevelopment strategic plan). According to Bryner, lowincome and minority communities are disproportionately exposed to environmental risks (for
instance those reside near brownfield sites). Also, low-income and minority communities are
less likely than other communities to benefit from natural resource access and development
There are different ways to frame the environmental justice problem. One of them is
the civil rights framework since environmental justice is perceived as a civil rights issue
focusing on remedies for discrimination. This framework is tangled with social justice.
Bullard (1994) lists the factors that contribute to environmental injustice. Some of these
factors are: “concerns about the procedures by which rules, regulations, and criteria are
applied; the location of meetings to inform public; the composition of decision-making
bodies” (Bullard 1994:35). Further, Bullard claims that “race and class are intricately linked in
our society” and race, in particular, is going to be a strong predictor of which communities are
in struggle.
The question of the extent to which the civil rights framework is helpful in attaining
the goal of environmental justice arises extensively, and the answer depends on the goals. If
the environmental and natural resource injustices relate to poverty, the solutions suggested
within the context of civil rights law might not be enough; therefore, we need to look beyond
those remedies (Bryant 2001). Then, to what extent are civil rights at the center of the
argument to attain environmental protection policies for people of color? Rights need to foster
common concern, empower individuals, and provide an equal access to environmental quality,
instead of isolating people from each other.
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Singer (2001) argues that “the intersection of brownfield and environmental justice
concerns from a number of social, scientific, and economic realities”. The fact is that
environmental and civil rights laws, according to Singer (2001), have been perceived and
enforced in different ways at the national and state level. Hence, various populations not only
have different amounts of exposure to hazardous chemicals or hazardous waste facilities or
other environmental offenses in their residential areas. Further, policies and practices create
brownfields and raise concerns about environmental justice.
As cited in the literature, it is the “distributive justice” that answers most of the
questions concerning access to resources and the distribution of pollution facilities defining
equity. If the equity means “polluter pays”, what kind of burdens, additional costs, and
challenges are presented. Bryner (2002) argues that the principal form of distributive justice is
utilitarianism, which stresses the outcomes of environmental and natural resources law and
how disproportionate and unfairly distributed benefits and burdens connect to environmental
justice. The other forms of distributive justice address egalitarianism, which emphasizes equal
distribution of resources, benefits, and burdens to all affected communities. In some cases, the
decisions were equitable however the benefits provided to the affected community might were
not. Bryner (2002) concludes that the “expectations of distributive justice pull powerfully on
many people as a way to remedy past injustices and prevent future ones.” (53). According to
Bryant (1995:27),
those institutional policies, decisions, and cultural behaviors that support sustainable
development, that support living conditions in which people can have confidence that
their environment is safe, nurturing, and productive, and that support communities
where distributive justice prevails.
Thus, the “distributive justice is important because the market system gives rise to both the
organization of American society and the unequal distribution of wealth and patterns of toxic
exposure and disease.” (Bryant 1995: 23) “Distributive justice” and environmental issues of
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minority and low-income communities call for decent schools, decent housing, safe jobs and
The other framework is social justice. As Bryner (2002) argues, environmental
injustices encompass not only social inequity, but also democratic inequality, lack of
participation in decision making, interplay of race and poverty, as well as political and
economic disadvantage. Increasing public participation is not enough to solve complex
problems of social justice. Therefore, a structural change in political, economic and social
institutions is necessary if the goal is to reduce injustices. There are two theories related to
social justice and race including ‘critical legal’ and ‘critical race’. Critical theory argues how
laws favor the interests of dominant elites in the political, economic, and social sector.
Therefore, critical theorists contend that goals of democratic action were blocked by the laws
and their research supports the understanding of participatory democracy. Race theorists on
the other hand, demand for race consciousness while recognizing major economic differences
between white and black communities. Bryner contends that “pursuing more essential social
and economic reforms promise not only social justice but also individual empowerment,
which gear towards to reduce environmental injustices.” (p.49).
The environmental justice movement, which has emerged to combat inequitable
externalities or burden of environmental issues placed on communities of color and poor, has
changed much since the late 1980s and the early 1990s (Bullard 1990, Bryant and Mohai
1992, Faber 1998, Bryner 2002, Martinez-Alier 2002). As Martinez-Alier (2002) emphasized,
environmental justice movement is not only applied in the U.S. but also in the Third World,
where she analyzes the cases in South Africa. This movement, which “has come to mean and
organized movement against “environmental racism”, has its achievements (Martinez-Alier
2002:168). There are numerous cases throughout the world addressing current conflicts in
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Chico’s struggle, conflicts in sulphur dioxide, and many others that have to do with “racism”
and sometimes not (Martinez-Alier 2002). For instance, the people affected by the Love
Canal incident were not the people of color. In the US, environmental justice is established to
present mostly urban pollution issues. The shift from “racism” to “justice”, as Foreman
(1998: 13) argues, is unquestionable. As “racism” is pejorative “justice” implies “a positive
goal to be achieved through creative effort.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s were the most significant
movements that motivated Americans, African-American and their allies for social change
(Cole & Foster 2001). The anti-toxics movement was the second historical environmental
movement that was organized against hazardous facilities and incinerators. The Love Canal of
New York was declared as a disaster. The third important contribution to the environmental
justice field was academics, especially sociologists, Dr. Bullard, in particular. Later, the
struggles of Native Americans and the Labor Movement all contributed and fed the
environmental justice movement. In early 1990s, the First National People of Color
Environmental Leadership Summit served as a force at the national level while challenging
the traditional environmental groups.
As the environmental justice movement expanded its definition over a decade, the
affected communities doubled their purpose. One of them is removing toxic contamination
from their community and the other is preventing new sources from coming into their
community (Buhrmann 2002). Bartsch and Colloten (1997) contend that environmental
policies governing brownfield cleanup and reuse saw brownfields revitalization as an
opportunity to lessen sprawl, air quality, and other urban problems became crucial. Affected
communities are very concerned about the cleaning and redeveloping of brownfields.
Environmental justice activists are also interested in the opportunity to correct past urban
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planning mistakes during the cleaning of abandoned properties. Zoning issues raise questions
regarding how to clean the site adequately to meet the residential standards whether the
facility will be used for industrial purposes or not.
The definition of environmental justice should be beyond toxic waste and pollution. For
instance, African American Health Institute basically adopted an extended definition of
environmental justice and listed community issues, such as predominance of brownfield sites,
deteriorating neighbor infrastructure, substandard socio-economic and educational levels,
severe under or unemployment, high crime rates, and engender of leaking underground
storage tanks (Greenberg & Lewis 2000). At the local level, recommended policies have been
effective in addressing environmental justice issues. Also, listed were recommendations to
promote increase awareness level among affected communities, to provide mixed-use
development to promote economic diversity and stability, to utilize GIS, and create job
The policy of “command-control” should be avoided if the goal is to achieve
environmental justice (Rhodes 2003). As many scholars mention, environmental justice is a
“double-edged sword,” because environmental concerns and economic opportunities are both
under siege. Affected communities have inherited an undesirable legacy of the U.S. industrial
economy—an abandoned potentially contaminated land—once used for industrial and
commercial purposes is now hazardous to health.
EPA and Environmental Justice in the Context of Brownfields Redevelopment
EPAs brownfield efforts are parallel to its environmental justice efforts in terms of
addressing environmental, economic, and social concerns (Singer 2001). In 1992, the EPA
established the Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) and defined Environmental Justice (EJ)
as “fair treatment for people of all races, cultures, and incomes, regarding the development of
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environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” www.epa.gov/ej). The goal is to enforce laws
evenly while engaging compensation for unjust past performances. The environmental
system that they attempt to create is not only to protect the privileged but also those with
disproportionate environmental burden, especially minority or poverty-stricken communities.
Identifying the shortcomings in the past while maintaining strengths, hence, becomes crucial.
In 1995 dialogues of NEJAC were very productive in terms of providing information on urban
revitalization and brownfield redevelopment, creating a partnership for community
involvement and interagency collaboration. During these dialogues the vision of
environmental justice is defined as,
the development of a holistic, bottomup, community-based, multi-issue, cross-cutting,
integrative, and unifying paradigm for achieving healthy and sustainable
communities—both urban and rural. In the context of ecological peril, economic
dysfunctionality, infrastructure decay, racial polarization, social turmoil, cultural
disorientation…which grips urban America at the end of the 20th century,
environmental justice is indeed a much needed breath of fresh air…”(Lee 1996: ES-1)
NEJAC dialogues linked to environmental justice with brownfield redevelopment: the report
even states explicitly that they are “inextricably linked”(Lee 1996: ES-ii). As it was
By their nature, Brownfieds are inseparable from the issues of social inequity, racial
discrimination and urban decay—specifically manifested in adverse land use
decisions, housing discrimination, community disinvestemt, infrastructure decay..
Further, the participating communities explored options of integrating “community-based
planning and community visioning” into community-oriented environmental projects. One of
the underlying questions is how to attain sustainable brownfield redevelopment. The primary
concern for individuals who live in communities near brownfield sites is environmental
justice (Davis & Margolis 1997). Historically, many facilities and industrial factories were
disproportionately located in urban, poverty-stricken, people of color communities. Calling
attention to these perceived injustices and “finding ways to rectify them has been the aim of
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the environmental justice movement.” (Ibid. 187) There is a strong argument that brownfield
redevelopment will not result in genuine environmental or economic improvements unless this
process is community driven (Lerner 1996).
The goal of NEJAC dialogues was to get communities involved and state their
concerns relating brownfields. NEJAC meetings not only provided an opportunity for
communities to voice their opinions but also allowed EPA to gain better understanding of
issues related to brownfield redevelopment. Some of the issues raised during NEJAC
dialogues were:
substantial burdens placed on certain racial and socio-economic groups by
environmental regulations; encouraging redevelopment without lowering
environmental standards; strengthening the ability for communities and the
government to work together toward common goals of environmental improvement;
creating jobs and training programs for brownfield communities; establishing public
and private partnership while generating federal interagency cooperation (NEJAC
Public Dialogues, 1997; 3-10)
The EPA also formed partnerships with other governmental agencies including DOL,
DOC, and HUD, and developed other programs to work with industry groups. Then, the EPA
selected 10 communities as “Showcase Communities” based on their community need,
current brownfield activity, local commitment, state involvement, and community size and
location. In 1998, the EPA also revisited the Brownfield Economic Redevelopment Initiative
to further clarify not only clean-up and redevelopment barriers but also liability issues while
promoting stakeholder involvement. The question is to what extent are the EPA’s programs
environmentally just or unjust? According to the Solitare and Greenberg (2002) study, the
U.S. EPA’s program is environmentally just by disproportionately awarding grants to the
most economically distressed cities. Based on their national phone survey, they found that the
cities that received funding in the early years of the program were more economically
distressed than cities receiving the funding in the later years.
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Public Participation Framework in the Context of Brownfield Redevelopment
The environmental justice movement has encouraged community-based environmental
decision-making and participation in projects that affect disadvantaged communities’ health
and environment. Through these efforts, environmental justice makes it possible to build their
community-based capacities for the long- term environmental protection at community level.
Public participation is not a complicated concept to understand, however the implementation
and motivation of meaningful participation becomes an issue in the context of brownfield
redevelopment. Public participation is mandated by federal, state, and many local
governments’ documents and almost every major legislation (Pepper 1997). Questions raised
are: what kind of participation is required; how to involve stakeholders and how to attract and
maintain the interest of stakeholders throughout the development projects. In some cases the
meetings were open to the public and the lack of direct residential impact and lack of
community participation were acknowledged. Further, community representatives usually feel
that their involvement is not encouraged, but in fact, they should be feeling otherwise.
Public participation is considered an important part of the redevelopment strategic plan
(Dennison 1998). Different types of stakeholders of brownfield redevelopment projects have
different interests. Affected communities lie on one end of the spectrum and the developers on
the other. Developers do not usually support public participation since they are mostly
concerned with the ‘business’ and ‘marketing’ aspect of brownfield redevelopment. By
contrast, affected communities, who live near hazardous waste sites, including low-income
and people of color, feel that they are not given adequate opportunity to participate in the
decision-making process. Hence, these communities believe that the program does not address
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their concerns of environmental risk factor or adequacy in the clean-up process. (Geltman
Today, most of the brownfield sites hold affected communities who have little influence
over which of the redevelopment outcomes takes precedence. To achieve the goals of
brownfields redevelopment, it is imperative to bring these affected communities into the
decision-making process early in the project development process, and to keep them involved
until completion. The following sections delve more into the theoretical aspect of public
participation discuss methods, challenges, and benefits of public participation in the context of
brownfield redevelopment as well as EPA initiatives in community involvement. It also
emphasizes the role of CDCs (Community Development Centers) in public participation.
The Context of Environmental Decision-Making
Public participation is a fundamental part of environmental justice especially for those
who lack political power and social capital (Bryner, 2002: 44). Procedures that ensure fairness
and justice give voice to all people; however there is no consensus over what kind of
participation is required. The theories of procedural fairness may range from advising on
proposals developed by others to selecting from existing options. Yet, a representative,
balanced, and fair decision-making process has not been enough to resolve issues of
environmental injustice. These are the result of inequality of power and resources, and the
ability to shape outcomes. Therefore, the result of pluralist politics is not equal and fair
(Bryner 2002). There is a need to make changes fundamentally in terms of power distribution
and resources. Thus, “procedural equity” as Lake emphasized, brings full democratic
participation in both decision-making and distribution of outcomes.
There is a need to democratize environmental decision-making by including citizens or
community members as laypersons in the decision-making process. Environmental decision24
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making process gains justices and fairness in the public opinion it is made open to citizen
participation. According to Fischer, (2000:1), citizen participation is “deliberation on issues
affecting one’s own life, is the normative core of democracy. “ Citizen participation not only
commits meaning to democracy but it also contributes to legitimate policy development while
promoting professional inquiry, which is the most important aspect. Within the context of
environmental politics, the nature of conflicts between citizens and experts, and question of
participation becomes imperative. As a result of industrialization and the activities of
corporations and other institutions’ decision, the public recognizes environmental risks
(Fischer 2000). Thus, not only environmental groups, but also citizens and politicians concern
themselves with the need to control and regulate scientific and technological projects. To this
end, the suggested solution is a participatory mode of democracy –or what Faber (1998) calls
-“ecological democracy”, which might bring citizens and experts to resolve the issues.
According to Fischer (2000), citizens are local experts and their decisions are important in
bringing their “local knowledge” to the scientific community establishment. By providing
local examples from Massachusetts, Woburn and an international experience from India,
Fischer argues that such participatory practices not only mobilize and empower citizens to
identify resources and risks, but also articulate directly with democratic theory and
environmental democracy. By the same token, Browler (1997) contends that citizen’
democratically derived decisions and participation in environmental impact analysis is not
only desirable but also necessary.
According to Faber (1998:9), ecological democracy “is an emphasis on the greater
participatory democracy.” He further contends that “the increased participatory democracy by
popular forces in given decision making and community planning is desirable…should be
supported.” (14). One of the principles of ecological democracy is that communities should
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not be blocked from making a greater contribution to the decision-making process, as this will
not result in achieving true justice. If affected communities greatly participate in decision
making processes for managing their resources, then environmental justice can be achieved.
Otherwise, participatory democracy remains only as minimum. Redistribution of power in
decision-making becomes important within the context of ecological democracy. As Lake
removing the environmental burden on a community, say through….site remediation, and
environmental cleanups, may well be a significant accomplishment but it will not have
empowered that community to control its environment. Redistributing outcomes will not
achieve environmental justice unless it is accompanied and, indeed, preceded by a
procedural redistribution of power in decision making.” Lake, 1996:167.)
The Need for and Benefits of Community Participation
If the goal of brownfield redevelopment is geared towards promoting sustainable
neighborhood revitalization, then the surrounding affected communities should be able to
acquire benefits as a result of these development efforts. The lack of or absence of community
involvement creates oppositions to a project, which will delay the project while increasing its
cost. In many cases, little notice or lack of community approval results in inadequate clean up
or may be clean-up that is not geared towards future uses. Hence, incompatible cleanup costs
for the local community and it therefore becomes difficult to keep jobs in the community. On
the other hand, projects benefiting from community participation support redevelopment by
bringing economic benefits to the developer and the affected communities. Furthermore, full
participation of all stakeholders can also bring beneficial solutions to regional conditions
related to land use, transportation, and regional economic development.
To achieve effective and meaningful participation, reaching out to communities and
identifying potential interest is a must. There is a need to build decision-making capacities of
community participants if their decisions are to carry weight in the process. With regard to
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planning brownfield reuse, as Wong & Owens-Viani (2000) argue, zoning or other general
land-use planning decisions are often made well before a site is considered for redevelopment;
however, neighborhoods still have a chance to include their input during re-development and
re-use zoning options. Unfortunately, community participation in such decision-making has
been limited or nonexistent. Cultivation of community leadership among affected
communities is imperative in brownfields redevelopment (Urban Habitat 2002). Community
benefits can be maximized by asking communities to be involved in the selection of sites and
in developing evaluation criteria.
In 1994-98 a study conducted by the Institute for Responsible Management found three
major benefits of community involvement. These are:
the existence of a group that would have the capacity to respond to concerns that could
potentially arise as a result of the redevelopment; the ability for participants to recognize
that benefits may not be distributed equally, but that the choices that have made are
legitimate; and private parties may be more inclined to get involved with brownfields
project if a public component is in place (Dalton 1998, 20-21).
It was found that community involvement is the key and proved to be an instrument for faster
redevelopment if it is done according to a comprehensive stakeholder involvement plan. As
described below, in the Lawrence Gateway Project for instance, a meaningful participation
resulted from partnerships, which were developed between public and private parties to
develop coalitions that incorporate interests and objectives of all. Another meaningful
outcome of public participation would be strong leadership for the project and coordination
among federal, state, and local governments (Pepper 1997, 16)
Methods of Community Participation and EPA
The traditional approach for involving the public in environmental decision-making has
some drawbacks (Siegel 1999). First of all, communities of color and low-income, people
hesitate to participate because clean-up processes are complex, so they believe that their ideas
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will not be considered. Second, public commitment is usually not the priority in
redevelopment planning unless planners face a dilemma and it is then they include affected
communities in the decision-making process. Besides, some public meetings are not
productive in terms of explaining the facts since officials hesitate to deal with troublemakers
in the community. As Siegal (1999) contends, there is no one-size-fits-all model in
community participation and decision-making. Hence, rules and procedures should be flexible
enough for the community to participate. In any case, public participation should be enhanced
by community advisory groups, community assistance offices and technical advisors.
By the same token, Chambers & Meertens (1997) also argue that there is no single method
for community participation in brownfield redevelopment. Public participation differs in each
community. The authors emphasize that the common methods of public participation are
public dialogues and working groups. EPA’s NEJAC public dialogues first took place in
1995, and then in 1996, and Boston was one of the pilot cities. In order to elicit public
participation, public dialogues provide a structure to community members to interact and
voice their concerns as well as their visions and ideas about revitalizing their communities.
Then, representatives from government agencies are asked to address how their respective
organizations might help to achieve these visions.
The 1995 dialogues of the NEJAC were very productive in terms of supporting
community involvement and raising questions about how to incorporate the idea of
“empowered community participation” into urban revitalization. In 1996 NEJAC public
dialogues came up with the “The Model Plan for Public Participation,” which summarizes the
principles of community participation (Wong & Owens-Viani 2000). The highlights of 1996
recommendations include “early, ongoing, and meaningful participation is the hallmark of
sound policy and decision making.” (Lee 1996, ES-iii) Further, the “support of the
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involvement of non-traditional stakeholders (such as community based organizations) in
government process, such as zoning issues…educating the public about basic decision-making
process that determine development and zoning patterns will result in stronger democratic
process, greater public participation, and better decision making for the public as a whole.”
(Lee 1996, 44) It was also acknowledged that “increased community participation in land use
decisions…are appropriate Brownfield redevelopment.” (Ibid. 42)
Another method to generate public involvement allows community leaders to work with
government officials and developers to enhance communication and the redevelopment
process as a whole (Davis & Margolis 1997). Yet, these levels of participation are not enough,
because, substantive community participation can be achieved only when the community is
properly educated and given an active role in the actual planning and decision-making
As Bartsch &Collaton (1997) argue, failure to open dialogue with the community not
only delays the cleanup but also the redevelopment. Traditional community involvement
strategies include public, council, planning commission meetings, and citizen advisory
groups. However, collaborative approaches to consensus-building are a compliment to the
formal decision-making process and as it brings all the stakeholders together. Both, opponents
and interested parties, are present in order to build a common understanding of the issues,
brainstorm, and test ideas. This method ensures open and fair participation. There are four
types of collaborative approaches: individual negotiations, facilitated negotiations, mediation
and consensus building. Some of the characteristics of collaborative process are that the
participation is inclusive and voluntary, and the participants have “ownership” of the process,
and all decisions are made by consensus. Wong & Owens-Viani (2000 ) argue that
“ownership” and meaningful participation can be achieved when participants have the
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“ownership” of the project. Community visioning and collaborative planning, as the Lawrence
case exemplifies (see below), are important approaches.
The traditional model of “decide-announce-defend” produces adverse effects, which is
different from meaningful participation (Wong 1999). Foster (2002) also criticizes the
“command and control”, top-down, national, uniform environmental approach and
“announce-and-defend” methods of decision-making system while introducing a new decision
making paradigm called, “devolved collaboration”. Devolved collaboration, a decentralized
decision making system, “holds out the promise of bringing together diverse interests in a
cooperative spirit to craft creative solutions to difficult environmental concerns that have gone
unresolved by traditional regulatory approaches.” (Foster 2002:144). Further, it is argued that
whereas consensus decision-making is extremely dependent upon finding mutually beneficial,
or win-win solutions and provides a strong groups incentive for limiting the number of
participants; devolution can be a tool used by collaborative group to exclude legitimate
interests and to produce a “disingenuous consensus” (Ibid.151) In this case, the goal is to
capture the process done by “a group of local stakeholders who achieve consensus through
exclusion, intimidation, or coercion.” (Ibid.152) Foster (2002) also insists that the inclusion
of community members in the beginning stages of brownfield redevelopment produce better
Meaningful participation is widely accepted as a better approach whereas pluralism is
not an ideal model especially for complex environmental problems (Singer 2001). However,
as Wong (1999) lists, there are challenges to promoting meaningful community participation.
These include: convincing community that their participation is worthwhile, communicating
technical complex information, determine who presents the community, improving the
capacity of community members, and maintaining engagement throughout a long and
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complicated process. The recommendations include knowing the community, seeking out a
diversity of opinions, providing effective communications, addressing credibility and trust
issues; integrating brownfields redevelopment with other community initiatives and being
flexibility will allow for a broader and more integrated response.
Obstacles to implementing meaningful participation:
One of the drawbacks is that public participation can create unrealistic expectations of the
public, resulting in disappointed and frustration. Also, community participation can slow
down the process by which brownfield redevelopment is already a long-term project (Wong
2000). Therefore, some developers who are eager to finish the project may oppose public
discussions and dialogues. Another obstacle is that citizens may not have the enough
knowledge or expertise, or in some cases, not know the language. This limits equal
participation. In addition, some projects may not have enough financial and human resources
to educate citizens to facilitate equal participation. Besides, timing and resources are critical
and therefore, early and strong public participation produces benefits to the project and to the
community members in the long run.
Community Participation and CDCs
There is an abundance of resources that emphasize the role of CDCs and CBOs in
rebuilding communities through brownfields redevelopment (Davis & Margolis 1997,
Foreman 1998, Wong 1999, Brachman 2003). The role of CDC as an educator, broker, and
“brownfield facilitator” has been cited extensively. For instance, if gentrification occurs as a
result of revitalization of a community that increases property values and creates better living
conditions for new comers (Wong & 2000, 43). These community-based organizations,
CBOs and CDCs, are structured differently and have varying external conditions however,
they have been successful in partnering with city officials on property acquisition and the use
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of city services. The community becomes a partner through a CDC board membership
available to local residents and resident volunteers (Brachman, 2003). Even though market
forces impede successful redevelopment, CBOs still play a pivotal role in preparing
brownfields for successful redevelopment. Goldstein et al. (2001) claim that local resident
participation through CDCs is an open process and without such participation, planning and
redevelopment efforts will be inconsistent with community visioning and less likely to receive
citizen support.
In some cases local governments take a pro-active role in brownfield redevelopment
projects. A pro-active local government in Worcester, Massachusetts, was able to successfully
complete a complex project, as described below. However, there are also cases of local
government that are unwillingly to take brownfield initiatives or unable to sponsor such
projects. Then, it is recommended that the EPA establish direct funding channels to enable
CBOs or other non-profit agencies to initiate and implement brownfields projects. In this case,
a minimal level of community participation is expected. At any rate, communities should be
given technical and monetary resources to describe their environmental concerns, current and
future development plans and their vision for the community.
Criticisms of public participation
Those who support public participation claim that participation empowers people to
make their own decisions without relying on government policy and allow them to decide for
themselves how to handle their concerns, such as environmental risks and economic benefits.
In this type of decision-making, although, there are no written policies such as national laws,
participants come up with solutions depending on their situation. However, there are critiques
of public participation. Pluralists emphasize that all the groups are not equal in terms of
resource distribution and ability to frame outcomes (Bryner 2002), hence, the results are both
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unfair and unequal. Those who are not a part of the decision-making process may face
excesses which threaten them in many ways. Solutions can also leave out future generations
while they focus on the current situation. The question is then raises, how can the interests of
current and future generations be balanced. Another related question is, “Are the needs of
current generations burden those of the future?” (Bryner 2001)
Those who have power, as Fisher (1993) argues, participants present another obstacle
for meaningful participation. For instance, LULUs can be an example by utilizing
participatory planning methods, a middle white class community trying to block or stop
LULU could be accused of NIMBYism and of being selfish (Solitera 2001). If people of
color and low income groups were to use the same methods, as Solitera (Ibid:39) emphasizes
it would be praised for an act of empowerment that address environmental inequalities and
injustices. As Bohman and Rehg (1997) claim, participatory planning empowers citizens and
supports democratic communication. Participatory planning does not alter the power structure
and, in some cases, supports elites. However, it challenges the power structure and achieves
social justice. For successful brownfield redevelopment, a bottom-up approach using local,
and place-based decision is recommended (Rhodes 2003).
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Worcester, Medical City Project
Key players in this project were WRA: a local redevelopment agency; Mass. Department
of Environmental protection: state regulatory agency; Fallon Foundation: the hospital
complex relocating in downtown Worcester
Project Background: Worcester’s economy is based on heavy manufacturing and its
related industries. However, Worcester’s manufacturing economy declined and its
economic base shift to light manufacturing. As a result of this change, many factories and
plants are now vacant or underutilized. The poverty rates in the neighborhoods
surrounding these facilities range 2-3 times above the state average. Having realized the
situation by city officials resulted in crafting policies to attain the biggest brownfield
challenge in 1992. That challenge was the largest new health facility, which would require
a merging of two big hospitals, St. Vincent and Fallon Health Care. First, city officials
recognized the need for an institutional framework that would effectively manage this big
project. City tackled this problem by establishing a quasi-local government agency called
Worcester Redevelopment Authority (WRA). WRA has an independent status from the
city and staffed with 12 employees.
Meeting the Challenge: The WRA formed a Citizen’s Participation Committee. The
group’s role was to assess the economic and community benefits of the project. The group
consisted of city officials, local business people, environmental groups, historic
preservation interest, the Chamber of Commerce, and community advocates. This group
was held monthly meetings for one year. At the end of the year, the committee gave the
project a green light. Then, the WRA and Fallon began preparing environmental impact
reports. For the next 18 months, another community group called Citizen’s Advisory
Committee was formed to tackle technical and planning questions. Such as, Was the
proposed site design acceptable? Were community needs being adequately addressed?
Were environmental assessment and cleanup strategies sufficient? Based on the
community’s input, the hospital’s design plan was finalized after changing many times.
The idea was to create a “golden triangle” of public space between three main structures in
the downtown area. Therefore, the city hosted a three-day “Urban Design Charrette” to
further encourage public participation in the design process (Bartsh & Collaton 1997).
After financing and final public approval, site improvement, environmental
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assessment, and remediation began. The whole project presented a daunting experience.
Medical City was classified as Tier IA (highest priority) hazardous material site. In 1996,
all the buildings on the site was demolished and remediation process made progress. The
state and WRA estimated $42 million budget for this project (Pepper 1997; Bartsh &
Collaton 1997).
Project Impacts: The direct and indirect project benefits to Massachusetts are expected
to produce a total of $5.8 million in sales taxes and $29 million in income taxes during the
three year construction phase and the first ten years of operation (Bartsh & Collaton
1997). Some other beneficial impacts are: the cleanup of 24-acre hazardous materials, the
separation of the combined sewer in the downtown area, asbestos removal, recycling of
95% of the demolition waste, and redevelopment in an urban area as opposed to a rural
“greenfield” setting. The success of Medical City has triggered a renewed investment
confidence, a revitalized downtown, high quality job offerings and a stable high-growth
economic base.
Many projects are burdened by high assessment and remediation costs and also
experience long time frames. However, this project was not only completed relatively in a
short time in considering the scale and also did not cost much because of the efforts of
WRA. As WRA director reported, “What could have taken us seven years to complete
was finished in just over two years.” (Pepper 1997). Since the WRA was successfully
managed this project, in 1995 the state passed legislation creating a regional body- the
Central Massachusetts Economic Development Authority (CMEDA) to pursue brownfield
initiatives. Then, EPA awarded CMEDA a $2,000,000 Brownfields Pilot grant, to be used
between 1996 and 1998 to establish the authority’s procedures, to create a public
participation model, to explore financing options, and to redevelop three distinct
brownfield sites (Bartsh & Collaton 1997).
WRA’s role was critical in terms of providing institutional framework, coordinate
remediation, encouraging public participation from the beginning, and facilitating the
site’s redevelopment. Strong leadership is necessary for any project in the case of
brownfields given that they involve such a diverse group of interests. As experienced in
Worcester, the establishment of a centralized redevelopment authority that would oversee
brownfields projects could prove to be most effective. WRA was responsible for
establishing and maintaining relationships among stakeholders and for assuring these
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parties that their best interest served.
Lawrence Gateway Project (Oxford Paper Site)
Key Players in this project were: city of Lawrence (local government; oversight
agency), GenCorp Polymer Products (neighboring business; financed significant portion of
cleanup at Oxford facility; Massachusetts Highway Department (state agency conducting road
improvements), and Lawrence IntoAction (local community group)
Project Background: Lawrence, like Worcester, has been attracted by many immigrant
workers as an another old industrial city where a steady decline of manufacturing occurred
(Pepper 1997:9). As Lawrence IntoAction co-chair says “ The image of Lawrence is basically
that we have a lot of larceny and car tefts…but that’s not what this town is all about..”.
Concerned residents and local planners, however, worked to redefine Lawrence’s image and
most recognize the city’s historic mills. Reusing the sites would stimulate job creation. As the
most visible brownfield site, they decided on Oxford Paper site, located at the gateway to the
historic, industrial part of town. In 1986, DEP of Mass. identified the site as being marginally
contaminated. Ten years later, in 1996 the site formally classified as Tier IB property under
the state’s Superfund program.
Meeting the Challenge: In the early 1990s, the City of Lawrence faced mounting
pressure from local residents to cleanup the Oxford site, but non-existent municipal funds
stopped officials to take any initiative. In seeking for a viable potentially responsible parties
(PRPs) that could be held liable for site clean up, the city labeled GenCorp a PRP; however,
they realized that “it was a plain mistake” (Pepper 1997). In 1994, city officials decided to use
their community block grant to hire a staff to oversee the Oxford Paper site. Due to the
complexity of the Oxford site and Lawrence’s limited finances, the city requested that
GenCorp act in an “advisory capacity” for environmental, technical, and reuse issues at
Oxford’s site and GenCorp agreed to do this. As Pepper (1997) reports “GenCorp sees that
it’s in its best interest to participate in the cleanup of Oxford’s site, ensure that all buildings
are demolished, and participate in redevelopment initiatives.” PRPs are current owners, past
owners (where it can be proven they are responsible for contamination), and generators and
transporters of site contamination.
One of the most important aspects of the project was strong community vision and
community involvement from the outset. It was said that “we were suggesting a
comprehensive, holistic approach to brownfields, looking connections with other programs..”
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May 2004
(Pepper 1997). Lawrence’s “visioning” process constantly expended and even people who had
never talked to each other “were working together for a common goal” (Pepper 1997:45). As
project coordinator reported regarding to community participation “one of the steps that gets
overlooked too often is the consensus development process” . Lawrence’s community group,
“Lawrence IntoAction, actively supported the hiring consultant, encouraged the city to
coordinate the road/bridge project with the Oxford site cleanup, encouraged a corridor study”
that evolved into a federal grant ISTEA (Intermodal Surface Transportation and Efficiency
Act) (Ibid: 49) while making the case for the EPA brownfield grant. All stakeholders agree
that involvement of Lawrence Into Action has been critical to the project’s success.
Another important aspect of this project was the strong leadership at the local level and
coordination, which definitely falls on the local community. It was reported that “People
who’ve worked in the trenches at the local level are just better equipped than people at higher
levels to see these kinds of projects” and again state officials said that “ ..sometimes we can’t
get cooperation at the local level, but in this case, working together has helped us stay on the
critical path.” (Pepper, 1997). As project’s coordinator explained, “state and federal officials
involved in this project focus only their particular task, they don’t necessarily grasp the entire
picture.” (Ibid.).
Impacts of the project: According to city officials, “the Lawrence Gateway Project has
triggered a domino effect of revitalization in Lawrence’s historic industrial district. Through
this project, a new public/private cooperation called the Lawrence Initiative has been
established. Whereas Lawrence Into Action has currently public representation, the new
group, Lawrence Initiative would have a much stronger public component. This group
provides a forum for consensus development, however, it does not have official
implementation powers. As one official reported, “….when you take these issues to the next
level and the important issues of consensus arrive, you need a public/private cooperation to
handle them…the Lawrence Initiative will have a broader perspective and participation,
starting in the Gateway Project area and then expanding to other parts of the city.” (Ibid.).
Incorporating Oxford Site Reuse into the City’s Broader “vision” for growth,
developing strong leadership at the local level, community involvement from the outset, and
strong public/private partnership were the highlights of this project.
Department of Sociology & Anthropology
Northeastern University
May 2004
Conclusion and Recommendations:
Toward to Sustainable Brownfield Redevelopment
Sustainable development is an ‘indescribable’ concept since it represents many things to
many people. For the purpose of this document, the definition offered by the World
Commission on Environment and Development is utilized, which is
sustainable development 1 is development that meets the needs of the present without
compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Lee
Based on this definition, countries define sustainable development in accordance with their
agenda. According to the Executive Order of 12852, sustainable development is
economic growth that will benefit present and future generations without detrimentally
affecting the resources or biological systems of the planet.” (Ibid.12).
Sustainable practices need to furnish a vital economy, which should be structured in such a
way that it has the stability, ability, and flexibility to adapt to the changing environment in
order to provide services and goods. Hence, the aim of sustainable practices should be
meeting the needs of the community without sacrificing the interest of others in the present or
future. Sustainability should also contribute to a healthy environment and achieve social
equity by allowing for equal opportunities to meet basic needs in a healthy and vital economy.
For Bryner (2001), “sustainability has the potential to become one of the ideas, like
justice, equity, and freedom, that become fundamental expectations for public and private
behavior as well as take shape in different contexts in providing specific guidance for action”
(179-180). He sees sustainability as a concept of community linked to strong democracy,
participation, community and personal interaction. By the same token, Bryant (1995:28)
claims that “environmental justice cannot exist without a sustainable policy” to deal with
inner city problems, to solve the problems of affected communities, such as “brownfield
communities.” Accordingly, environmental justice is becoming a strong force in order to
attain sustainability (Martinez-Alier, 2002).
Brownfields are not only problems, but problems with opportunities. As Shutkin and
Mares (2000:64) contend, “the operative definition of brownfields could include both the
legacy of environmental injustices and the future of environmentally just and sustainable
development.” Brownfields redevelopment can accelerate and has a potential for community
Department of Sociology & Anthropology
Northeastern University
May 2004
revitalization. Furthermore, brownfields issue offers an opportunity for community members
to participate in decision-making on land-use related to brownfields and development process.
Brownfield redevelopment can also be used as a tool in managing growth while helping the
preservation of undeveloped and natural resources and to prevent sprawl.
In order to do community-based sustainable land-use planning, meaningful community
involvement at early stages in the development process (Shutkin & Mares 2000). Further,
such planning gives a better chance to the communities being heard in land-use decisions
related to their communities’ brownfields issue. Brownfields are not only legal or technical
remediation hazardous sites, but also sites that offer opportunities for economically affected
communities. Hence, the clean-up process should no longer be privatized.
The creation and continued existence of brownfields are unsustainable as potentially
contaminated sites in neighborhoods, creating environmental and health risks for localities
while burdening economies. Sustainable brownfield redevelopment should address the main
components of sustainability: improving the economy, protecting the environment, and
addressing equity issues for affected neighborhoods. Pro-active community participation is the
key to successfully promoting environmentally just and sustainable development as it
harnesses community involvement and support from the very start (Bryne 1999). Furthermore,
the recommended “best practices” in brownfield redevelopment include: removing health
risks as a priority in the plan; mandatory community participation in redevelopment;
enforcing compliance with Environmental Justice Executive Order; creating and maintaining
cross-sector partnership; supporting innovative redevelopment strategies, moving from a site
specific and market-oriented focus to regional, equity-based perspective, establishing clear
community-based goals, fostering an awareness of social impacts, supporting the remediation
and reusing of currently utilized industrial properties (Urban Habitat 2002).
See also, Karaoglu L. 1993, Chapter II, Sustainable Development and Protected Area Management (MA thesis,
Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts).
Department of Sociology & Anthropology
Northeastern University
May 2004
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