Reversing urban decay
Start Year: 2013

Reversing urban decay: brownfield redevelopment and environmental health

While the United States government concentrates more of its political and financial resources on fighting terrorism, the continuing decay of older cities and industrial suburbs has fallen far down on the national political priority agenda. An exception is the redevelopment of so-called brownfields, which are abandoned, idled, or underutilized factories, railroad yards, bus stations, garages, electricity-generating stations, and other commercial facilities. A modest national government program to identify, clean up, and redevelop brownfields into job fields began during the administration of Bill Clinton and has continued into the George W. Bush administration (Powers et al. 2000; Simons 1998; Van Horn et al. 1999). The political reasons are apparent: Developing brownfields is a politically acceptable method of stimulating private enterprise, local government, and community groups into building new businesses, housing, and community facilities. Also, brownfields projects have a beginning and an end; the national government does not have an indefinite responsibility. In contrast, social assistance programs that grew during the 1960s and proliferated for more than three decades have been politically portrayed by some as give-away programs that build dependency with no ending. Whether this characterization of social programs is morally or empirically justified, the reality is that in today’s political environment brownfields redevelopment is a politically acceptable way of helping distressed urban areas.