To support its expanding capacity building work both within its network and in low-income communities nationwide, Groundwork USA is hiring a Director of Technical Assistance Programs. The TA Program Director will be part of a team working with communities on today’s most exciting environmental, economic, and equitable development strategies. Applications received by May 31, 2016 will be assured of full consideration. For more information, please see the Groundwork USA Director of Technical Assistance Programs Job Description.
by Kate O’Brien
It takes effective policies and a robust toolkit to reclaim vacant and abandoned properties as quality community open space. Now more than ever, communities across the US are turning to land banking to stabilize vulnerable neighborhoods saddled by large-scale land vacancy and abandonment. Increasingly, we see municipalities clearing titles, demolishing abandoned houses, expanding side lots, routinely auctioning vacant properties, and even taking on basic maintenance of now vacant and publicly owned land.
But what happens to vacant land that’s not in high demand — often plentiful, and often located in weak-market, historically disinvested neighborhoods? How can communities– especially the people who live in the midst of these parcels— define their vision for vacant land reuse that is meaningful to them, then rally around that vision to reclaim those high-priority parcels for community-defined benefit? And what are the wider “systems change” implications of this work?
Recently, Tangier Barnes Wright, Groundwork USA’s Manager of Land and Water Programs, and I posed these questions and offered our response to attendees of the Community Progress Leadership Institute. At the request of our partners at the Center for Community Progress, we developed and led a workshop for Institute attendees called “What’s Next? Ensuring Your Community’s Vacant Land Reuse Strategies Create Meaningful Near-Term Impact and Long-Term Outcomes.” Over the course of 90 minutes, we explored two challenging but rewarding brownfield-to-park projects — Dr. Nina Scarito Park in Lawrence, MA, and Platte Farm Open Space in Denver, CO.
As managers of these projects, we shared our first-hand experiences of the relationships we nurtured, and the unforeseen obstacles and unanticipated discoveries we encountered, from visioning and planning to short-range and long-term implementation. We also recommended some best practices for implementing adaptive and inclusive processes to achieve more equitable re-development of vacant, underutilized, and sometimes even contaminated properties.
For example, connecting a vacant land reuse project to a broader planning initiative can help to build the unanimous, cross-sector support projects like these often need. Such an approach was taken 14 years ago when Groundwork Lawrence began a campaign to clean up and transform a series of neighborhood brownfields, beginning with a former industrial laundry site that would become the Dr. Nina Scarito Park on the Spicket River Greenway. While responding to expressions of project support in the living rooms of residents living near the site, Groundwork Lawrence also partnered with local CDC Lawrence Community Works to design and lead the ambitious Reviviendo Gateway Initiative (RGI), whose mission was to build human potential, create new housing and commercial space, improve the public environment, and redefine the city’s image.
Project planners focused first on building relationships to foster trust among RGI’s myriad stakeholders. Eventually, a spirit of collaboration and sharing of information and resources blossomed across the community. RGI was the first time a diverse cross-section of stakeholders from every corner of the community was invited around a table together: residents, youth, elected officials, municipal department heads, business and civic leaders, nonprofit leaders, educators, doctors, anyone you could think of. The guiding presumption in this inclusive planning effort was: every single stakeholder, every single program, every single project— including Scarito Park— has both a distinct and interconnected role to play in turning our community around.
We’ve seen projects like this catalyze larger paradigm shifts, too. When vacant land transformation projects like Scarito Park and Platte Farm Open Space become undeniable neighborhood priorities, they offer an opportunity to re-frame place-based neighborhood investments as an economic development strategy. We took every opportunity over the six-year life of the Scarito Park project to make this case because it’s a message that bears repeating. Brownfield-to-park projects offer long-term strategies for countering disinvestment, fostering cohesion, and building wealth by creating jobs, educational youth development “moments,” and multiple entry points for residents to become long-term stewards of their favorite places.
The lasting implications of a holistic and equitable redevelopment approach— in which a project’s “benefit” is defined by the community rather than the developer— call into question the purported promise of more traditional notions of economic development. “Silver bullet” downtown waterfront condo and hotel developments may garner the attention of elected officials, high-profile investors, and the media, but the ripple effects of such projects rarely, if ever, touch the lives of our most marginalized citizens.
Based on the Q&A session that followed our presentation, it’s clear that there’s a healthy appetite among municipal leaders — in right-sizing and long-disinvested communities especially — to figure out how to finance and sustain such pivotal neighborhood-based transformations. We’re excited at the prospect of fostering new and existing nonprofit-municipal coalitions and public-private partnerships. Through our ongoing Brownfields Technical Assistance Program, we seek to kick-start and achieve vacant land transformation victories like ours in low-moderate income neighborhoods and communities of color. We thank the Center for Community Progress for giving us the opportunity to share some of our insights with such an engaged audience, and look forward to continued partnerships with them.
Kate O’Brien is Groundwork USA’s Director of Capacity Building
Upcoming Webinar: Site Access and Site Control — Building Will and Negotiating with Private LandownersMarch 29th, 2016
Groundwork USA presents a free webinar, offered through our brownfields technical assistance program. Join representatives from Conway, AR and Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation for discussion and examples of achieving equitable development outcomes where site control has been an issue. Presenters will share successes and challenges associated with:
- Negotiating transfer of property
- Pros and cons of purchasing property before conducting environmental assessments
- Collaborating with property owners to complete environmental assessments
- Cost Benefit Analysis – cost of land acquisition compared to social and economic benefit. – Keeping equity and social justice in-mind
Consultant and Former Executive Director of Dorchester Bay Economic Corporation, Dorchester, MA
Under Jeanne’s 20-year leadership, Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation (DBEDC) doubled its staff to 24 people, and significantly increased housing production and job. Jeanne represented Massachusetts CDCs from 1998-2015 on Mass Development’s Brownfield Advisory Group, which oversaw the $60M brownfield site assessment and remediation fund. DBEDC was an EPA Phoenix Award winner for its five-acre, $15M Spire Digital Printing brownfield redevelopment in 2002. DBEDC has redeveloped over 20 brownfields.
City Planner, Conway, AR
Scott currently works as a city planner for the City of Conway, AR, and program manager for Community Development, overseeing housing development and neighborhood revitalization strategies for the City, including innovative housing projects and brownfield redevelopment. With a degree in business administration from the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), Scott has worked in the private, non-profit, and public sectors, and has over 20 years’ experience in housing and real estate development. He has completed the three-year Community and Economic Development study program with UCA-CDI, and has over eight years’ experience in neighborhood revitalization.
By Kate O’Brien
A recent City Lab piece by Brentin Mock on why race matters in planning public parks validated for me an important core value shared by Groundwork Trusts and practitioners, which is that everyone— regardless of income, ethnicity, age, gender, ZIP code, or otherwise— deserves equitable access to high-quality parks and open spaces. But delivering on that core value takes intentional work that is skipped over all too often.
There are several reasons why planners and other municipal officials don’t do this work as thoroughly as they could. For one, it requires a sustained investment of time to build trusting relationships and relevant lines of communication with residents— certainly longer than the average election cycle. It also requires thinking beyond one’s own experience and perspective when planning community outreach events and meetings.
For instance, what are the barriers to participation or attendance for the person working the second shift? The single mother with small children? The recent immigrant whose first language isn’t English? Reaching out beyond the familiar faces — those who frequently turn out at City Hall public hearings, zealously fill out municipal surveys, use email as a primary form of communication, and/or speak English as a first language— takes a different way of doing business, a more nuanced, thoughtful strategy. Seeking out oft-marginalized voices takes work — but making good on a commitment to equity and relevance is work worth doing.
It’s no surprise that municipal planning and funding priorities for parks and open spaces— for any investment, really— often appear tone-deaf to the needs of our nation’s most marginalized citizens. Indeed, planning priorities are developed in response to the opinions planners and policymakers hear, which is exactly why it’s so important to change up how, whom, where, and when you ask for input. Groundwork Trusts are committed to developing deep relationships with community constituencies whose voice is least often heard, and we amplify the voices of those folks once they’re sitting around the table weighing in on land use and other issues of concern in their neighborhoods. Our practitioners reach out for input and seek mandates from communities of color and low-moderate income populations precisely because their opinions and needs are most frequently overlooked. We do this, too, because communities of color and low-moderate income communities stand to gain the most from the “healthy community” improvements that don’t come around often enough in places experiencing sustained disinvestment.
Only when we ask ourselves “what barriers might exist that would prevent participation in a given planning process?” — and work earnestly to eliminate those barriers — will we begin to truly meet people where they are. And that, in a nutshell, is one fundamental way we can make community development and redevelopment efforts more relevant, equitable, and inclusive for all.
Kate O’Brien is Groundwork USA’s Director of Capacity Building
Groundwork Atlanta has undertaken a search for an Executive Director! Please see the job description and application details here: Groundwork Atlanta Executive Director Job Description 2016
Equitable Development Through Brownfields Planning: A Report from the New Partners for Smart Growth ConferenceFebruary 26th, 2016
by Tangier Barnes Wright, Groundwork USA’s Manager of Land and Water Programs
Last week, Groundwork USA’s Director of Capacity Building Kate O’Brien and I attended the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference in Portland, Oregon. February 11 was a busy day in which we hosted both a conference session on how to create successful and emblematic brownfields area-wide plans and a workshop aimed at furthering equitable development outcomes by engaging youth in brownfield planning and advocacy. We were able to offer this workshop as part of Groundwork USA’s EPA-funded Brownfields Technical Assistance Program.
The conference session panel featured a diverse set of practitioners, including Groundwork Hudson Valley’s very own Green Team member, Samantha Robinson. Samantha shared her insights and experience as a youth involved with the Putnam Rail Trail area-wide planning process in Yonkers, NY, helping the audience understand the importance of engaging youth in brownfield, area-wide planning processes.
Making sure youth are involved in brownfield planning and redevelopment projects is just one way of ensuring more equitable outcomes. As is the case in Yonkers, young people often have more intimate and trusting relationships with their communities and can serve as liaisons between their communities and city hall, particularly when members of their community do not speak English as their first language.
Directly after the conference session we hosted a workshop for local community practitioners on engaging youth in brownfield planning and advocacy. It was a hit! We appreciate everyone who made time after a long day at the conference to attend. Thank you to Groundwork Portland, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and EPA Region 10 for helping make this happen.
Workshop participants represented various non-profit organizations from Portland, Seattle, and Kansas City. Material presented included:
- An introduction to brownfields (“Brownfields 101”);
- How to conduct a Phase I environmental assessment;
- Using the C-FERST mapping tool created by EPA Region 10 and piloted by Groundwork Portland; and
- How to create an advocacy campaign for re-purposing brownfield sites.
Equitable development means, among other things, the inclusion of all people in planning and decision-making processes. Equipped with information and tools gathered at the workshop, participants can feel more confident initiating a discussion about brownfields in their communities and can participate more meaningfully when brownfield redevelopment projects are up for consideration.
After the workshop, one youth participant reported that she will take what she learned back to her school’s green club, and that the C-FERST mapping tool could be a possible project for them. Should these students decide to use the mapping tool and gather their own data, they will be in a better position to participate in higher-level conversations around brownfield redevelopment. They will have an understanding of brownfields in their community and can therefore participate in making decisions that will benefit their community.
Overall, our time in Portland was well spent. Nothing beats seeing the “ah-ha” moment when audience members realize how they will apply the material you have just presented!
Groundwork USA is honored to welcome Christina Smith as the new Executive Director of Groundwork Bridgeport. Born and raised in Bridgeport, CT, until the age of 12, Smith brings to Groundwork Bridgeport a deep commitment to her hometown as well as a wealth of urban planning and financial management experience, serving most recently as Bridgeport’s Director of Central Grants.
Smith has lived in Bridgeport on and off her entire life. After earning a B.A. in Economics from Princeton and working in the financial industry in a variety of roles, she pursued graduate studies “with the specific aim of returning to Bridgeport to make my hometown better and restore it to its former glory!” Smith holds an M.A .in Historical and Sustainable Architecture from New York University and an M.Sc. in Urban Regeneration from University College London, Bartlett School of Planning, where she focused on brownfields redevelopment.
Just weeks into her new role, Smith hopes “to reconnect [Groundwork Bridgeport] to the broader community and act as a local resource for organizations both within and outside of the city who seek to do community development, with a particular focus on the physical environment. My goal is to create, grow, and expand programs to meet the current needs of the city including in the areas of urban farming, urban forestry, and urban agriculture. Our work with youth and education will focus on these areas.”
When she’s not busy at the helm of Groundwork Bridgeport, Smith enjoys learning new languages — she’s studied seven to date — creating art, and traveling.
Groundwork Buffalo is pleased to welcome Antonina Simeti as its new Executive Director. An experienced urbanist, Simeti is committed to creating new models for economically and environmentally sustainable development. She is especially interested in participatory planning processes and place-based interventions that challenge traditional planning frameworks in order to meet broad policy goals.
“It’s a great time to be in Buffalo,” said Simeti. “With the experience and resources of the Groundwork USA network, the excitement of our board, and community members hungry to participate, I think we can all work together creatively to drive the kind of transformation from which everyone benefits. My goal is to support purposeful, yet innovative projects that will empower and generate excitement. Groundwork Buffalo provides a perfect platform to equip our neighborhoods to respond, with optimism, to the environmental, economic, and global climate forces continuing to impact the city. It’s exciting, and I’m glad to be here and a part of it!”
Simeti’s professional experience includes non-profit management, design strategy, public policy research, user research, and environmental impact analysis. She has worked with a range of stakeholders including government agencies, elected officials, community-based organizations, business leaders, cultural and higher education institutions, designers, and educators. Simeti holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Tufts University and a master’s degree in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Brownfields and equitable development are the topics du jour for Groundwork USA at the 15th annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference in Portland, OR next week. Groundwork staff members Kate O’Brien and Tangier Barnes will facilitate a conference session focused on how to design and implement successful brownfield small-area planning projects. Our team is particularly excited about an “extracurricular” workshop we’ll deliver, focused on engaging young people in brownfield planning and advocacy. With this workshop, Groundwork USA aims to capture the attention of youth, community-based practitioners, and municipal staff alike, and build their capacity for leading inclusive, equitably oriented projects and programs.
If you’re interested in attending our youth-oriented brownfield planning and advocacy workshop happening in Portland, OR on Thursday, February 11, please click here for more information on how to register.
Please join us in Portland!
New Partners for Smart Growth conference session:
“Small-Area Planning: Assuring Responsive and Equitable Development Outcomes”
Time: Thursday, February 11: 3:30 to 5:30 P.M. PST
“Engaging Youth in Brownfields Advocacy and Planning”
Time: Thursday, February 11: 6:30 to 8:30 P.M. PST
Location: Portland Fire Station No. 1, 55 SW Ash Street, Portland, OR 97204
Funded by EPA to deliver technical assistance and peer support to people in brownfield-affected communities, Groundwork USA provides valuable tools and insights to help communities re-develop brownfields while assuring environmental justice and more equitable development outcomes.
From Mountains to Main Street: Groundwork Ambassadors Help National Parks Reach Out to New AudiencesJanuary 26th, 2016
From January 10 to 16, 20 Groundwork youth leaders gathered in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park to focus on a critical question: How can we close the diversity gap and engage communities that don’t typically visit national parks? Joining the Groundwork team to kick off the new National Park Service Mountains to Main Street program were representatives from the National Park Service (NPS), Teton Science School, Student Conservation Association, City Kids, and guests such as Grand Teton National Park Superintendent David Vela and former National Park Service Director Bob Stanton.
The goal was not to diversify national park audiences simply by taking people unfamiliar with the parks on a visit. That strategy has been tried again and again with limited success. Instead, Mountains to Main Street program participants spent the week thinking about their local communities back home, drawing upon team members’ own experiences living and working in communities of color and underserved urban neighborhoods. Rather than trying to meet the needs of the park, participants approached the “diversity gap” question by focusing on the needs of their own communities. What are the barriers that stop team members’ constituents from visiting the parks? By crafting programs uniquely tailored to meet the needs of their own communities back home and involving a local national park as a collaborator and/or source of inspiration, Groundwork participants hope to forge lasting relationships between parks and communities that will endure after the Mountains to Main Street program has ended.
The Groundwork youth leaders and their colleagues spent the week thinking through the challenges their task entails, all while learning systems thinking, the NPS approach to interpretation, and new ways to enjoy national parks. What are some ways to engage audiences who think that national parks “aren’t our thing?” What is it like to visit a park and feel that there’s no one else there who looks like you? Program participants also heard from local youth who have just begun venturing into Grand Teton National Park thanks to the Grand Teton National Park Foundation’s Pura Vida program, which educates and engages local Latino youth in GTNP. Of course, plenty of time was also spent just enjoying the snow-covered splendor of the Tetons!
The week-long confab received high marks from participants, all of whom felt ready to implement their action plans by the end of the week. And what amazing new ideas and approaches emerged for engaging new audiences with the national parks during NPS’s centennial year! Over the next few months, the newly minted Mountains to Main Street Urban Ambassadors will develop logistical strategies, collaborating with park personnel to develop programs attractive to diverse audiences and crafting effective messages to engage them. Grand Teton’s Megan Kohli (with Superintendent Vela’s help) is reaching out to the parks selected by the participants to gain park personnel’s support in helping to make these Mountains to Main Street programs a success. Once the programs are implemented, Groundwork participants will report back to the Groundwork network on the successes and challenges of this exciting venture. Follow their progress on social media at #Mountains2MainStreet.