Adaptive Reuse in NYC: Planning for Site Remediation
When considering more sustainable practices for design and construction, adaptive reuse architects first consider their choice of site. Instead of building on “new” land, they often choose to clean up existing land known as “brownfield sites”.
A brownfield is defined by the EPA as a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. There are over 450,000 brownfields in the United States, which presents immense potential for improving the health of people, nature and the environment.
Brownfield sites typically exist within the industrial section of cities on sites with abandoned factories or commercial buildings, which not only reduce property values but encourage pollution and unsafe conditions. . Urban environments like New York City have a long history of industrial development, and as a result, a long history of heavy metals, pesticides, hydrocarbons, solvents, and other human health hazards in the soil. The rough appearance of these sites and the mere mention of hazardous materials often scares off developers, even though they may be in locations of great value. Though the remediation and development of these brownfield sites may be an expensive and lengthy process, the benefits to the community, environment and even the investor’s wallets, often outweigh the risks.
The land remediation process depends heavily on the intended use of the property. For example, a more extensive remediation program will be required if the lot is being converted into a residential site or community garden, as opposed to a parking lot. The more extensive the remediation program, the longer it will take and the more expensive it will be to treat. Regardless of the future plan for the site, the first step of land remediation usually starts with looking at a property’s past uses and identifying possible contaminants, called a “Phase I Environmental Site Assessment”. While the hefty cost of remediation is a huge factor in the decision to reuse a brownfield site, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offer grants to encourage developers to heal and reuse formally contaminated sites.
Brownfield remediation and redevelopment boasts a number of benefits including the removal of harmful substances, increased area property values, less land use than greenfield developments, avoidance of urban sprawl, increased economic value and return on investments and a boost in community pride and vitality. One developer’s trash may be another’s treasure if he’s willing to invest time and money into brownfield sites.
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