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Steve Graham

Steve Graham photo courtesy of Steve GrahamSteve Graham is an award-winning freelance Web and magazine writer living in a Fort Collins, Colorado, neighborhood that will soon produce all of its own energy. He is a former newspaper reporter, editor and designer. He has worked for an alternative weekly and community newspapers in Colorado, and a large daily newspaper in California. Find links to some of his other writing at his Grahamophone blog.

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From Brownfields to Green Homes and Parks
Monday, 06 February 2012 00:00  |  Written by Steve Graham | Blog Entry

Vancouver Olympic Village by Goose3fiveSometimes new business opportunities are found in the most unlikely places—in this case, poor urban communities with contaminated industrial sites. Three federal agencies—the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development—are working together on a pilot program to cleanup brownfield sites and create sustainable mixed-use developments with better mass transit. The project is part of the new Office of Sustainable Communities.

It starts with finding five sites around the country for specific pilot projects. Brownfields are typically former industrial sites in urban areas. They require remediation, but not to the same extent as a Superfund site. Nonetheless, the location and environmental hazards deter investment. The federal agencies hope to make housing and transit cheaper and more sustainable in such underserved communities.

Not only do the projects offer plenty of business opportunities and unique ways to help redefine these communities and urban spaces, but they also help the economy at a time we really need it. The $19 in revenues per federal dollar spent and a job for every $13,000 in federal spending. That’s some efficient stimulus—and great for the Earth.

Scrubbing soil can involve both financial and scientific instruments. Remediation companies are moving into cutting-edge biotechnology by developing techniques to use oxidation, microbes or deep-rooted plants to soak up chemicals and heavy-metal contaminants. They are also attracting venture capital and creating a new niche in environmental insurance (pdf), which helps limit the liability associated with brownfield cleanup.

Federal funds don’t stop with remediation. Smart builders and contractors can take advantage of stimulus money by going green with their rebuilding efforts as well. HUD offers $15,000 per apartment for saving energy and water, improving indoor air quality and bringing other environmental benefits for multifamily housing projects. Developers must work closely with HUD program managers and accept 75% of their suggested upgrades. They must also sign recycling, green maintenance and extended affordable-housing guarantees.

Other Redevelopment
Even after the soil is cleaned up, the food is likely still unhealthy in underserved communities. President Obama’s 2011 budget request calls for $400 million in investment money for supermarkets and farmers markets, particularly for underserved communities. The Food Trust is also working for new healthy food initiatives in urban areas.

Education is another option for investment and improvement in underserved communities. While charter schools are often criticized for increasing segregation and leaving poor students behind, other organizations—such as ICEF Public Schools in Los Angeles—have targeted poor, urban communities with innovative charter schools.

Canadian Model
There are plenty of opportunities for government funding and private investment in urban brownfields. Areas once blighted by industrial pollution can become thriving mixed-use developments with affordable housing, green construction, transit and jobs.

The Vancouver Olympic organizers offered a great example of turning brownfields into green development. The city transformed a former industrial hub into the Southeast False Creek Olympic Village, which housed athletes during the games. It will later house 16,000 residents, a community center, community gardens, schools, public parks and more.

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