By Tara A. Butler and Daniel S. Wilson
Architects do more than design buildings. Through their understanding of the interaction of people and their physical surroundings over time, architects add vision and value to the entire development project. Bricks and mortar are what we see.
But architects' most formidable skills lie in their ability to get people to express their abstract goals and visions and capture them in buildable form. Since informed decisions made early will save considerable time and money, bringing an architect on board from the outset of a development project will pay for itself many times over in both first cost development and construction and life-cycle operation. The architect's unique abilities to see a multidisciplinary picture and unite various factions of the community-encourage innovative solutions to brownfield redevelopment.
The architect is a designer, coalition builder, problem solver, mediator, advocate, and planner. He or she is trained to overcome problems and incorporate the needs and resources of the community into a design proposal. As illustrated in the case studies, architects relish the design challenges and rewards of revitalizing urban brownfield sites.
According to Mayor Harvey Johnson of Jackson, Miss., the “impact of brownfields is not just on that one parcel of land, but on the surrounding neighborhoods as well. These sites need to be cleaned up, redeveloped, and put back into productive use.” Architects across the nation echo this call.
By converting these former industrial sites to differing uses such as parks, shopping areas, learning centers, and housing, we are investing not only in marketable real estate, but in the most valuable resource of all our communities. Brownfields are untapped resources that hold a wealth of opportunity. Often in central urban locations with costly infrastructure already in place, brownfields are diamonds in the rough. Brownfield redevelopment “taps the hidden value of extensive roads, streets, and other utilities that are already in place to serve the next generation of business development.
In a time when our nation is searching for solutions to suburban sprawl, these urban sites are the new market frontier bursting with community capitalism. When combined with intelligent planning, community involvement, entrepreneurial spirit, and a clear vision, brownfield sites can be transformed from environmentally contaminated landscapes to thriving urban meccas.
Promoting Livable Communities
Suburban development is rapidly consuming open space. In fact, a national survey highlights sprawl as a top concern for many Americans. In response to what is often viewed as diminished quality of life, there is growing demand for the creation of “livable communities”--those that emphasize planning and design.
By virtue of their central location, brownfields in urban areas—often along waterfronts—offer significant redevelopment benefits that are vital to the concept of livable communities. Brownfield redevelopment is both good social policy and good business policy. Redevelopment of these properties is not only an investment in land, but also in the urban fabric. By providing economic opportunities and aesthetic improvement to these areas, we promote sustainable community development.
Success Stories/Case Studies
Many American cities are currently undergoing a renaissance. Young professionals and empty nesters have begun a migration to cities and continue to make them the location of first choice. Brownfield redevelopment capitalizes on this trend and helps keep the urban revitalization momentum going.
To better understand how brownfield redevelopment enhances communities, we examined three case studies. One of them was in Glen Cove, N.Y. This success story show how architects have been enlisted to help lead the development process, forge the community vision, and create livable communities and neighborhoods.
The city of Glen Cove has been an industrial center since the mid-1600s. This Long Island city's coastline consists of 214 acres of mostly contaminated, abandoned, and underused sites within its l.1-mile waterfront district. Glen Cove had two federal Superfund sites. Sixty-eight percent of this land is comprised of brownfields with histories of heavy industrial and manufacturing use.
This entire waterfront area has been cited an “urban blight area” by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Moreover, 13% of households within a mile of the site have annual incomes under $15,000.
Jambhekar Strauss Architects, now merged with FXFOWLE Architects, under the lead of Mark E. Strauss, FAIA, and Uwe Brandes, developed the Glen Cove Creek Revitalization Plan seeking to make Glen Cove “a place people are attracted to, rather than a place people avoid.”
This master plan broke the 214 acres on both sides of the creek into seven zones. The zones were targeted for a marina, a high-speed ferry terminal that provides service to Manhattan and Connecticut, a conference center, a hotel, a maritime museum, a waterfront gateway visitors' center, offices,shops and restaurants.
With funding from U.S. EPA's Brownfields Showcase Community Program and federal and state agencies, as well as private-sector investment, Glen Cove expect to rejuvenate their city by generating $200 million in annual sales and creating 1,700 full-time jobs.
On September 9, 2008, the Glen Cove Community Development Agency and Industrial Development Agency approved a Conceptual Development. The mixed-use plan includes approximately 860 residential units plus retail, recreational, and entertainment uses; new marinas; and a luxury hotel linked to a continuous public esplanade of parks, walks, and pedestrian-oriented open space on the water's edge.