Transforming Brownfields

Creating PARKS AND green spaces from BROWNFIELDS

Brownfield sites are stark physical evidence of unresolved environmental justice issues facing historically marginalized neighborhoods. Whether the contamination is real or perceived, brownfields stymie redevelopment efforts and perpetuate the cycle of disinvestment. Working hand-in-hand with local residents through inclusive, community-driven processes, Groundwork Trusts plan and implement high-impact brownfield transformation and land-reuse projects in long-overlooked neighborhoods, transforming environmental liabilities into community assets.

  • Transforming Brownfields for Community Benefit
  • Environmental Justice 2.0: Creating Neighborhood Assets
  • Re-Framing Economic Development
  • Aligning Missions, Leveraging Partnerships

Transforming Brownfields for Community Benefit

Children play in Scarito Park, site of a former Lawrence, MA brownfield
Children play in Scarito Park, site of a former Lawrence, MA brownfield

Parks. Playgrounds. Community gardens. Urban farms. Greenways for walking and biking. Restored habitat and waterways. Tree nurseries and orchards. Outdoor classrooms. Green infrastructure for stormwater management. These are the kinds of assets that underserved communities need and want and that Groundwork USA helps create.

In all our brownfields redevelopment and land reuse projects, Groundwork Trusts engage local residents every step of the way, from pre-development through construction and ongoing stewardship and maintenance. Utilizing environmental justice and equitable development strategies, Groundwork Trusts help communities realize their vision and ensure that redevelopment projects make our communities healthier and safer places to live, work, and play.

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Environmental Justice 2.0: Creating Neighborhood Assets

Groundwork youth working in the South Street Farm.
In 2011, Groundwork Somerville and a coalition of community members transformed two baren, paved parking lots into the South Street Farm, Somerville’s first urban farm!

Since the 1980s, the environmental justice movement has tackled the disproportionate concentration of brownfield sites and other environmental hazards that threaten health and well-being in low-income communities and communities of color. But what about the environmental assets that help make a neighborhood a safe, enjoyable, healthy place to live — parks and play spaces, walking and biking infrastructure, tree cover and nature, gardens, and other sources of healthy food? Until recently, they’ve generally been treated as nice-to-have amenities rather than essential components of a healthy community.

In neighborhoods grappling with poverty, poor health, and the legacies of pollution, disinvestment, and structural racism, Groundwork Trusts work hand-in-hand with local residents and catalyze cross-sector partnerships to turn contaminated, vacant, and derelict properties from environmental burdens to the kinds of assets healthy communities want — and need — to thrive.

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Re-Framing Economic Development

Groundwork MKE Green Team at work in community gardens.
Through their Milwaukee Grows program, Groundwork Milwaukee oversees a network of 80+ community gardens located on vacant lots across the city.

Groundwork USA approaches brownfield redevelopment as a long-term economic development strategy for underserved communities. Community-driven brownfield and vacant land re-use projects offer opportunities to counter disinvestment, foster neighborhood cohesion, and build community wealth by creating jobs, educational youth development opportunities, and multiple entry points for residents to become long-term stewards of local, favorite places.

While markets and real estate finance drive most brownfield redevelopment dollars to large downtown or waterfront projects with immediate and higher economic returns on investment, Groundwork Trusts typically work on smaller industrial sites in neighborhoods that have suffered from decades of economic decline and disinvestment. Groundwork Trusts pursue brownfields redevelopment projects not for the sake of immediate tax revenue or developer profit, but as place-based investments that yield a significant triple bottom line of equity, health, and economic opportunity for communities that would otherwise be left behind.

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Aligning Missions, Leveraging Partnerships

Groundwork Richmond is building community assets and community capacity by planting trees and beautifying the Richmond Greenway, site of a former railway.
Groundwork Richmond (CA) is building community assets and community capacity by planting trees and beautifying the Richmond Greenway, site of a former railway.

The Groundwork USA network is rooted in a visionary partnership between the US EPA and the National Park Service. By working with long-marginalized neighborhoods to transform brownfields and neglected properties into community assets, Groundwork Trusts help further the work of our federal partners and make their missions more visible and relevant to residents’ everyday lives.

Groundwork USA helps fulfill the EPA Brownfields Program mission on the ground.

  • We build communities’ capacity to reclaim local brownfields.
  • We engage environmental justice communities in brownfield redevelopment prioritization and planning.
  • We respond to local needs and mandates.

Groundwork USA helps fulfill the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance Program on the ground.

  • We make parks and open space relevant and meaningful to urban dwellers.
  • We increase access to green space and outdoor recreation.
  • We cultivate stewardship of special places among residents, businesses, and local governments through public-private partnerships.
  • We engage youth — and youth of color in particular — in stewardship, job readiness, outdoors-focused job training, conservation, and recreation opportunities.
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