From Industrial Wasteland to Community Park

Watch an animation from ASLA’s online exhibition, Designing Our Future: Sustainable Landscapes, that explains how to turn a toxic industrial wasteland into a vibrant local park. See how damaged landscapes are restored through bioremediation and redesign:

Brownfields are abandoned, environmentally-contaminated industrial or commercial sites. People who come into frequent contact with the leftover solvents, cleaners, and oil found on these sites often develop major health issues. In addition, the chemicals found in brownfields contaminate soils and often leak directly into underground water resources. Degraded parts of some major U.S. cities contain up to 1,000 brownfields per square mile.

Bioremediation involves using plants, fungi, or soil microbes to clean up toxic brownfields. Some types of deep-rooted plants can even be used to remove toxic metals from the soil. One example is Thlaspi Caerulescens, commonly known as Alpine Pennycress. According to Cornell University researchers, a normal plant can only store about 100 parts per million (ppm) zinc and 1 ppm cadmium. Thlaspi can store up to 30,000 ppm zinc and 1,500 ppm cadmium in its shoots without being negatively affected. In fact, these types of plants thrive while restoring the brownfield to its natural state.

Cleaning up these sites is not only good for the environment, but also helps create economically-strong, healthy communities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) says brownfield clean-ups can increase nearby residential property values by 2 to 3 percent. Healthy buildings, schools, and parks have taken shape on redeveloped brownfields. Formerly poisonous sites can even turn into valuable community green space: the new Olympic Park in London, Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City, and Toronto’s new park network are coming in over hectares of previously bombed-out, toxic sites.

Sources: Maryland Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities, U.S. Department of Agrilculture, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Also, check out sustainability education resources on brownfield restoration / ecosystem rehabilitation.


One thought on “From Industrial Wasteland to Community Park

  1. faslanyc 01/06/2011 / 10:58 am

    worth discussing here would be: why should these sites be parks? Can landscape architects add value to projects that don’t result in parks? Are parks even necessary in most contexts?

    Historically, and still today, park-making is largely a real estate venture (or closely tied to one) and the reclamation of brownfield sites as parks almost always results in the pricing out of existing communities. Perhaps we can propose some more varied and sophisticated models for remediating these sites, or just strip remediation down to its basics (the individual mechanisms- the fungi, microbes, etc) and not assume that a park will be the impetus.

    Also totally glossed over here- LABOR. The labor was fundamental in that factory in the video (probably, i realize it’s a generic image). It would be a huge component of any bioremediation regime, and could also be a component of the recreation regime. Even just some silhouettes of people harvesting those hyperaccumulators and putting them in a dump truck for hauling away (or whatever the particular process would be) would insert it into the discussion.

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