One of the major challenges in the Calumet is how to work with the patchwork of underutilized land, or Brownfields, in the region. While many see Brownfields as a liability, the Calumet Collaborative and partners recognize that with the proper approach, Brownfields can be an asset. In January, the article “New Partners & Projects for Brownfield Redevelopment” introduced a semester long project run in partnership with the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) Institute of Design (ID), called “The Future of Brownfields”. In this project, masters and PhD students helped us change the way we think about landfills, vacant homes, abandoned industrial sites, and contaminated natural areas.
The course produced two reports: “The Future of Brownfields” and “Brownfields: Critical Paths for Regional Redevelopment”. With these reports, students introduced an array of strategies and solutions at various levels: micro (ecosystem of products and services), meso (platforms and infrastructures), and macro (system dynamics). Andre Nogueira, project manager during the “Future of Brownfields” course and PhD Candidate, Adjunct Faculty at IIT ID, has learned “that if Brownfields could be redeveloped by involving local residents, leveraging existing assets, strengthening local economies, and empowering science, then new sustainable futures can be explored.” Andre further explains that “new types of infrastructures will be required to regenerate the region” because all strategies and solutions should be implemented together for the greatest regional impact.
The semester long project was supported by a portion of a grant from Chicago Community Trust to support Calumet Collaborative’s work on Brownfield redevelopment, and IIT ID leveraged this support to find funds to continue the project into the summer. In addition to the reports produced during the course, students created four prototypes with the purpose of engaging Calumet residents in Brownfield redevelopment. With the help of the newly secured funds, three versions of these prototypes are being tested this summer in local communities throughout the Calumet region.
As academic projects are tied to semester long time-frames, a great opportunity arose by being able to continue this project into the summer months. Community engagement is key to understanding how those that live in the Calumet will respond to these “new infrastructures” described by Andre, and with IIT ID being able to find funding to continue this project, time constraints were lifted in order to properly start engaging residents with IIT ID’s work.
"An insight that has struck me during this work is how much residents of the Calumet Region actually want to be responsible for the upkeep and preservation of the region.” - Christopher Rudd, Founder of ChiByDesign
Christopher Rudd, the founder of ChiByDesign, is originally from the Calumet region, and joined this project to assist with community engagement. “The biggest reward that I have experienced working on this project is to see youth and community members from many different walks of life show interest in one another and the natural world. An insight that has struck me during this work is how much residents of the Calumet Region actually want to be responsible for the upkeep and preservation of the region.”
Andre explains some of the prototypes being tested with the community: “We have created game simulations, sensor-based public installations (fusing art, technology, and science), and new digital platforms for civic empowerment.” These prototypes are: 1) Mini Calumet- a simulation tool that uses educational programs to reconnect local youth with the environment, 2) Flag Calumet- a modular installation structured on the intersection of art, science, and sensor technology that serves as a facilitator between local residents and the environment, and 3) Value Calumet- a digital platform for civic empowerment that matches demand and supply while mediating efforts to optimize local resources.
These prototypes aren’t typically what one would imagine when thinking about Brownfield redevelopment, but that is the point of the IIT ID project. “The Future of Brownfields" report is intended to introduce new ways of thinking about Brownfield redevelopment in the Calumet region, based on design methods, systemic approaches and asset evaluation.
After the summer portion of community engagement is completed and the prototypes are refined, the staff at IIT ID hopes to further advance the work on these prototypes into three micro-pilots in the coming year.
To learn more about this project, read both “The Future of Brownfields” and “Brownfields: Critical Paths for Regional Redevelopment” reports. If you have further questions or would like to become involved in this initiative, please reach out to Ashley at firstname.lastname@example.org.