Solutions for environmental challenges are not always immediately obvious or straightforward. A recent webinar, presented by the Canadian Brownfields Network (CBN), considered how to communicate the benefits of brownfield redevelopment.

During the webinar, entitled “Breaking Down Barriers: Communicating the Benefits of Brownfields,” savvy tips were in ample supply, including the importance of integrating a communications expert into a project team, personalizing stakeholder interactions, and maintaining transparent engagement practices.

The webinar, which was sponsored by Environmental Risk Information Services (ERIS), featured the following panelists: Meggen Janes, executive director of the CBN; Judy Lam, a manager with the City of Hamilton; Liam McClellan, a planner with the City of Edmonton; Mira Shenker, a director of communications and engagement with Waterfront Toronto; and Donovan Toews, a managing partner with Landmark Planning & Design Inc. The moderator was Andrew Macklin, a senior advisor on media and public affairs with WSP in Canada.

Benefits of brownfields redevelopment

Here are some compelling reasons (that were presented in no particular order) for bringing brownfields back to productive use:

  1. Brownfield reuse may contribute to a reduction in the need for greenfield development. For many years, communities grew by building out. Industrial/commercial parks and new residential developments often were built on greenfields outside the municipal core area. By reusing brownfields and development intensification, the pressure on greenfield development may be reduced. Possible benefits include urban renewal and keeping greenfields available as natural habitats, or for outdoor recreation or agriculture.
  2. Municipal services infrastructure, for the most part, already exists in Brownfield areas.   The required investment for new infrastructure is thereby reduced (when compared to greenfield sites) for brownfields.
  3. Remediation of a site, in conjunction with suitable Risk Management Measures (RMMs), appropriately provides tools to manage contaminants from past use of the site, making our communities safer places to live and work.
  4. When used as part of a downtown intensification program, revitalizing brownfields ultimately can help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If a downtown brownfield is cleaned up and used for residential purposes, it provides people with housing that may be closer to their workplaces, allowing them to use transit, cycling or walking instead of cars. This reduces GHGs from vehicle emissions.
  5. Redevelopment of brownfields frequently increases the value of adjacent properties because it removes what are often seen as eyesores – dilapidated, vandalized buildings that may pose a danger to people who frequent them.  Redevelopment of these areas can act as a catalyst seeding the transformation of entire neighbourhoods.
  6. A property that has been put to higher value use generates more municipal revenue than does an abandoned one. Because unused brownfields are low-value use properties, they don’t generate much tax revenue for the municipality. Re-use increases their values, which then increases revenues for municipal governments. Even if the municipality provides short-term property tax incentives, the eventual increase in revenue more than compensates for the short-term foregone revenue. This makes more money available to add amenities and improve services for residents.
  7. Redeveloped brownfields can be a home for community amenities and enhance the public realm. Some municipalities, such as Orillia, ON, have redeveloped brownfields as recreation centres, providing a community focus and increased facilities for residents. Even if a brownfield is turned into a park (something that is often considered an interim use), it improves the public realm by providing green- and play-space for those living in the area.
  8. Cleaning up and redeveloping a brownfield for business use (commercial, retail or industrial) can result in increased employment opportunities, better-paying jobs, or both, in the community. This raises the standard of living and helps people acquire more marketable job skills, as well as reducing unemployment. Ultimately, it contributes to the health and growth of the Canadian economy.
  9. When used as wind- or solar-energy farms, brownfields help us move to clean, renewable energy sources. Case in point: SunMine, a fully reclaimed Teck mine in Kimberley, British Columbia, which was converted, with the company’s support, to a solar-energy farm and now sells power to the BC Hydro grid, reducing the province’s reliance on non-renewable energy.
  10. After remediation and, if required, the implementation of suitable RMMs, brownfields can be redeveloped to provide safe, affordable residences for Canadians. The federal government through its National Housing Strategy is aiming to address our housing crisis.    Brownfields play an important role in providing a potential solution to our housing needs.
  11. Not all brownfields are above ground. Canada has many former harbours and waterways in need of clean-up. Projects such as the Wabigoon River at Grassy Narrows, ON and the Hamilton harbour are having a positive impact on human health and the environment, and are providing economic benefits for neighbouring communities and their residents.
  12. Brownfield reuse supports many of the federal government’s priorities, including reducing GHG emissions, homelessness and inner-city poverty. These priorities also are part of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals for 2030 so, by returning brownfields to productive use, we not only help Canada; we also make the entire world a better place.

The HUB Awards

Do you know an individual who is making notable contributions to the advancement of brownfield redevelopment in Canada?

If so, nominate them for a Heroes Underpinning Brownfields (HUB) Award. These prestigious awards are presented at the CBN Annual Conference and include three distinct categories, listed below.

Lifetime Achievement: Presented to a distinguished individual whose lifelong dedication has significantly elevated the Brownfield industry. This unsung hero has tirelessly led, mentored, and innovated, shaping transformative paths that have now become the bedrock of industry practices and policies. Their resounding strength has propelled immense progress, setting an enduring standard of care for brownfields.

Innovation Award: Acknowledging pioneers at the forefront of technical innovation and novel approaches to brownfield redevelopment. These visionaries passionately create solutions across various facets of the brownfield space, developing tools that enhance lives. Their significant roles in overcoming challenges reflect a commitment to diversity, collaboration, and leadership, while shaping innovative solutions for the industry.

Emerging Leaders Award: Recognizing remarkable developing professionals who are newer to the brownfield world and have become integral pillars in advancing the brownfield practice. These rising stars offer valuable insights into programs, policies and practices that significantly propel the industry forward. As community and local leaders, they are not only making a name for themselves but also infusing vitality and vigor into the realm of brownfield renewal.

Nominations are open until May 3, 2024. Submit your nomination at:

Featured image: The Sun Mine in Kimberley, B.C. Credit: Teck Resources.

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