Monthly Archives: November 2013

What can states do to encourage brownfield development?

6589531539_7b9c69d478_zBrownfields—sites polluted by previous industrial or commercial uses—are a burden. Clean up is often difficult and mired in a complicated system of liability and responsibility that creates disincentives to redevelopment. This problem is particularly true in the Northeast and Midwestern United States. Early industrial activity left behind a scarred history on these regions’ built environment. Many communities in these regions have struggled to find some way of remediating and reusing environmentally contaminated sites in their midst.

 Katherine Buckingham (MCP ’13) shows how one state—Massachusetts—has taken the lead in restoring contaminated sites through legal and policy reform. Massachusetts has modified the federal system of superfund liability to encourage potential brownfield developers to purchase and rehabilitate properties. More significantly, interagency cooperation provided through the Brownfield Support Team initiative (BST) has made it easier to deal with regulatory requirements.

The BST process brings together experts from various state agencies who work to promote the redevelopment of a small number of complex sites in two-year cohorts. Katherine looks at two brownfield projects—the Uniroyal and Facemate properties in Chicopee and the Kiley Barrel site in Somerville—that were the focus of BST’s efforts. She finds that the state’s involvement moved cleanup efforts forward in ways that cities could not manage on their own.  BST initiatives provided new opportunities for project funding, and generally allowed redevelopment to progress more quickly and at lower cost.
“Ultimately,” Katherine writes, “the BST approach was able to build strong relationships, generate creative solutions, and expedite the redevelopment process”. Both Katherine and federal officials view Massachusetts’ approach to brownfield redevelopment as a strategy that could be easily adopted by other states.  Read more about the state’s Brownfield Support Team initiative in Katherine’s thesis here.

Finding a Way to Yes: Resolving Public Disputes with Devising Seminars


The situation is familiar to many planners: a broad set of angry stakeholders with wildly divergent worldviews, a deeply personal and political problem with no clear definition or boundary, and limited options regarding a way forward. These are called  “wicked” problems, and this is a scenario that dispute resolution practitioners have few ways of handling.


In her thesis, Carri Hulet (MCP ’13) describes a new tool to add to the facilitator’s repertoire. Called a “devising seminar”, the concept is built around the idea of gathering a small group of stakeholders to brainstorm how they proceed without any immediate pressure to commit to a specific set of recommendations.


Carri details the experience that she and a team of university researchers had in applying this method in the case of a Chilean hydropower conflict. In the context of an intense dispute between Chilean government officials, project developers, environmental representatives and indigenous communities likely to be adversely affected by development, the team turned to a devising seminar to generate new policy ideas and a better understanding of the sources of their disagreement.


The Chilean experiment met with mixed results, but demonstrated the utility of devising seminars as a tool for promoting public policy dialogue among long-time adversaries. Carri lays out the crucial elements, major obstacles, and key recommendations regarding the use of devising seminars, which can be found in her thesis.