Executive Summary

The definition of "brownfields" includes unused or underutilized urban sites that are (or may have been) contaminated by prior use. It has been estimated that as many as 650,000 brownfield sites exist in the United States and that the total cost of restoring these sites to productive use may be in excess of $650 billion. Redevelopment of brownfields, it has been argued, is a key factor in ameliorating "urban sprawl" and the adverse social, economic and environmental impacts associated therewith.

The present study addressed four questions. The first of these focused on the extent to which the redevelopment of brownfields reduces developmental pressures on undeveloped suburban or rural areas ("greenfields"). The second question concerned economic benefits that are induced by the redevelopment of brownfields. Statutes and regulations that either inhibit the redevelopment of brownfields or that encourage the development of greenfields were the focus of questions three and four. Question three addressed federal statutes and regulations while question four addressed statutes and regulations at the state and local level.

In addition to answering these questions, this research sheds light on answers to two key, higher-level, questions. First, does the redevelopment of brownfields actually serve as a check or constraint on urban sprawl? Second, what are the critical factors (and the relative weights of those factors) that most influenced specific decisions to redevelop brownfields?

The first of these two higher-level questions is of particular relevance regarding the development of "greenfields" (previously undeveloped lands such as agricultural or forest lands). To answer this question, successful brownfield redevelopment projects were analyzed in terms of the amount of land that the same project would have required if it had been developed in a greenfield area. Calculation of these "areal differentials" indicated that the same project would have required significantly more land had it been developed in a greenfield area. The overall mean for the three subcategories into which the data were divided (industrial development, commercial development and residential development) was 4.5. This means, in essence, that every brownfield acre redeveloped would have required a minimum of 4.5 acres had the same project been located in a greenfield area. Of the 142 samples (derived from 48 specific brownfield redevelopment projects) that were analyzed in the study, 108 (76.1%) would have required more land in a greenfield area than was actually used by the brownfield redevelopment project. The total area of land used by all of the brownfield redevelopment projects was 142.7 acres. Had these same projects been constructed in a greenfield area, a minimum of 645.9 acres would have been required.

When subdivided by category, the data indicate that the redevelopment of one acre of brownfields (1) if for industrial purposes, would have required 6.2 acres in a greenfield area (95% confidence interval: ± 5.4 acres), (2) if for commercial purposes, would have required 2.4 acres in a greenfield area (95% confidence interval: ± 0.6 acres) and (3) if for residential purposes would have required 5.6 acres in a greenfield area (95% confidence interval: ± 2.5 acres). Of the 142 samples, 19 of 29 industrial samples (65.5%), 39 of 53 commercial samples (73.6%) and 50 of 60 residential samples (83.3%) would have required more land if the specific redevelopment project had been located in a greenfield area.

The second key question involved the determination of critical factors (and the relative weights of those factors) that most influenced specific decisions to redevelop brownfields. Individuals involved in the redevelopment of brownfields in six metropolitan areas were interviewed with specific questions focusing on the critical, site-specific factors that most influenced their decisions. An analysis of the results of these interviews indicated that there are five critical factors that most influence brownfield redevelopment decisions: (1) the "market mismatch" between brownfields and greenfields, (2) actual or perceived urban crime, (3) intergovernmental competition, (4) the need to assemble parcels of land into tracts of sufficient size to permit economic redevelopment as well as the need to clear title to such lands and (5) the need for local governmental leadership. The relative weights of these critical factors varied among both the individuals interviewed and the metropolitan areas investigated.