Best practices in brownfields redevelopment and environmental justice

The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) has worked with many local governments and community groups to research brownfields redevelopment issues. Brownfields are abandoned, idled, or under-used industrial and commercial facilities in which expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination. Nearly every community in America faces the challenges of brownfields redevelopment.

Through its research, ICMA has identified a number of "best practices" that can be applied to any community brownfields redevelopment project. ICMA has also recognized the link between brownfields redevelopment and environmental justice (EJ). Many of the following best practices apply to the environmental, development, and social justice issues inherent in these two fields.

Internal Coordination
Local agencies and departments can achieve new levels of service delivery information sharing and cooperation by educating peers, inventorying resources, and examining how programs and services can be adapted to address brownfields and EJ issues. Identification of a tireless project champion and executive-level support for brownfields redevelopment and environmental justice issues are the keys to successful local coordination.

Community Outreach and Education
Clear communication and goal setting are other important aspects of community outreach and collaboration. Working with community members to develop principles of collaboration and to address specific community needs and issues helps build participant confidence in the process.

Gaining the buy-in of local informal community leaders can make or break a community-centered effort. Informal leaders (e.g., clergy, local businesspeople, educators) hold sway among residents and can be the most effective in communicating information concerning brownfields redevelopment and environmental justice issues.

Community Meetings and Dialogues
Engagement by residents through informal gatherings can help a community prioritize its needs and articulate concerns. These forums also allow the community to develop its own informal decision-making organization and process for addressing issues that go beyond brownfields redevelopment.

The Role of Stakeholders
In addition to local government and community groups, many state and federal agencies, regional planning organizations, foundations, nonprofits, faith organizations, colleges and universities, and private sector representatives can bring valuable resources and experiences to bear on community-centered brownfields redevelopment and environmental justice issues.

A Model Plan
The success of any brownfields redevelopment project is dependent on the following:

Organizing citizens and stakeholders into committees and interest groups to address various aspects of brownfields and redevelopment, breaks tackling a big issue into a series of smaller, more manageable tasks.

After identifying the issues and potential plans to address them, stakeholders must develop a series of principles of action. These policies will be used as a guide to help keep the process on target and as a ruler to measure the outcomes of the plan.

Developing a series of tasks, timetables, and specific deliverables allows each stakeholder group to understand its own responsibilities and contributions to developing a systematic approach to brownfields and environmental justice issues.

The people, policies, and processes developed to address brownfields and environmental justice issues can also be used to address other community issues and create a new model for local government and community collaboration.

ICMA Resources
ICMA has published a guidebook and three reports which local government officials and community groups can use to address brownfields redevelopment and environmental justice issues. The reports are written and published through ICMA's Superfund/Brownfields Research Institute (S-BRI) and may be purchased by calling the ICMA distribution center at 800-745-8780 or by visiting ICMA's online bookstore at