Underutilized vacant land has long been a challenge in the bi-state Calumet region but there are many that believe they are assets waiting to be developed. Many of these vacant or underutilized sites have an additional complication of being a brownfield. Together with several partners, Calumet Collaborative is working on a systemic approach to not only change that impression, but to develop innovative strategies and tools to reuse these areas in a way that’s never been done before.
Calumet Collaborative’s advisory council recognized both the potential and need for collective action around brownfields. As such, the advisory council determined bi-state brownfield redevelopment should be one of Calumet Collaborative’s four initiatives.
A brownfield is defined as a property that the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse is complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant.
Calumet Collaborative will be utilizing a portion of a $50,000 Chicago Community Trust grant to support the work of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) Institute of Design. A diverse group of masters and PhD students with varying academic backgrounds will take on a semester-long project to create solutions and regional regeneration strategies that focus on brownfield redevelopment through multi-system integration while engaging those not previously involved in this work.
Michael Davidson, Calumet Collaborative board member and Chicago Community Trust senior program officer in sustainable development says, “Calumet Collaborative can invest research dollars to elevate the discussion and determine why it’s been so difficult to make changes in this space and determine how we can improve the process. This project is a chance to conduct sustainable development in a unique way and reframe brownfields discussion from liability to asset, threat to opportunity.”
Associate Professor in Design, Carlos Teixeira, along with his colleagues, Associate Professor of Environmental Management and Sustainability, Weslynne Ashton, and adjunct faculty and PhD student Andre Nogueira, will be coordinating the IIT students’ efforts.
Dr. Teixeira adds, “Instead of seeing brownfields as a problem, we can see brownfields as the point of reference where new development can happen. They’re idle assets that are underutilized. They’re enhancers, not constrainers.”
The design project will run concurrently with a brownfield mapping and inventory project that is being led by experts from Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and assisted by faculty and students from the University of Illinois at Chicago Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement as part of their work as an EDA University Center. These coordinating efforts will be overseen and further directed by the Calumet Collaborative brownfields work group made up of advisory council members and other subject matter experts.
“By mapping existing assets, we can determine how they can be leveraged through brownfields with the end goal of building sustainable solutions,” Dr. Teixeira says.
The IIT team indicates pursuing brownfield research will provide the chance to scale up their existing tools to deeply impact the Calumet region.
“Brownfield redevelopment hasn’t seen a lot of innovation in a long time. We can provide stakeholders with a new set of lenses to work from,” Dr. Ashton details. “We don’t pretend to be brownfields experts, but can provide a proven platform for stakeholders to co-create.”
Davidson explains it’s important to note this new approach will be an aid to those already involved in brownfield redevelopment work.
He says, “It will not invalidate those efforts, but bring capacity to other organizations’ efforts to help them succeed.”