The Center for Public Environmental Oversight (CPEO) has just released a study designed to help local governments, community based organizations, and other Brownfield stakeholders evaluate the environmental risks associated with beneficially reusing urban, contaminated sites for certain purposes.
The report, Using Historical Records to Assess Environmental Conditions at Community Gardens (June 2012), focuses on the important and steadily expanding trend of small-scale gardening in infill locations with contamination issues. According to the CPEO, the number of community gardens in this country has increased over the past 10 years by 300%, from 6,000 to 18,000. As presented in the report, the reasons underlying this rapid gain in momentum are diverse and include the following:
Increasing access to fresh, nutritious food in underserved communities;
Reducing the energy requirements and carbon footprint of food production by growing more food locally rather than transporting it from distant farms;
Supporting urban agriculture as an entrepreneurial activity to promote community development; and
Creating interim uses for vacant and abandoned properties to reduce municipalities’ costs of maintaining the properties.
Michael R. Goldstein, Esq., The Goldstein Environmental Law Firm, P.A., Miami, Fla., made an excellent point last week that “the evidence that we’re seeing both in our practice specifically and in our travels generally supports the notion that this is a trend with staying power.”
He states that, by example, “those who work for local governments are actively considering initiatives and strategies to promote the siting, construction, and cultivation of urban gardens on Brownfields sites. And in situations where local governments have engaged us for the purpose of helping market their brownfield sites to the development community through an RFP process, we are consistently recommending the inclusion of an urban garden component as part of the award criteria. In the eyes of many, questions remain as to how wise and safe this type of use is in actual practice.”
It is currently under review and future reference among members of the Brownfield Coalition of the Northeast. Goldstein commented that “the CPEO has done an excellent job of putting together a roadmap and toolbox for facilitating the thoughtful evaluation of environmental risk in the context of urban gardening. If you’re a local government planner or economic development official or, perhaps, a community based stakeholder and interested in pursuing this type of opportunity as one element of a Brownfields beneficial reuse strategy, we strongly encourage you to read the report closely. Doing so will not only inform your decision-making but will also to help you educate other interested parties and stakeholders in a very meaningful way.”