Improving Public Health Requires Community Engagement
Incorporating public health improvements into the planning for brownfield assessment, cleanup and reuse can bring a community together and strengthen the redevelopment.
The site reuse planning process can be used to confront many health and safety issues. Local leaders and residents may recognize their brownfield site is only one of other public health or environmental hazards facing their community. Explaining risk-based cleanup at local meetings will help residents understand the process. Community engagement and other planning and assessment activities can help the community consider different opportunities for reusing the brownfield site (and perhaps other nearby properties) and how those opportunities will improve the safety and community health of existing and future residents.
Community engagement only works when the members involved understand the process, feel their concerns are heard, and see their goals reflected in the vision created for the site. Residents and community leaders, business and elected officials and those investing in brownfield revitalization may wish to establish a community advisory board to identify and discuss issues that require attention for long term investment. Local leader and investor attention to equitable development can help prevent displacement and create local avenues for employment that strengthen the local economy and reinvest in the community. As shown in the Brownfield to healthfield Story Map, this reinvestment may include adding essential services such as access to healthcare to meet the needs of residents and create and sustain job and economic growth. Fresh and healthy food retail or food production opportunities can contribute to community and commercial activities focused on restoring vacant lands to safe and productive reuse.
Resident and local government officials may wish to address safety or crime issues near brownfields or high vacancy areas which affect residents and discourage investment. Community partnerships with law enforcement, crime mapping, community engagement and including design features that increase visibility, lighting and attract visitors may help counter crime.
Community engagement under EPA Brownfields Grants
When conducted under an EPA brownfields grant, the community engagement and involvement processes will focus on brownfield specific issues. The grant recipient may use public notice in newsletters, newspapers or community bulletin boards. They may organize neighborhood events or use existing local government meetings to discuss potential hazards/risks and steps involved for assessing, cleanup and reusing the site. These are useful opportunities to discuss community strengths and assets to preserve, as well as the community needs to be met. While solving a broader array of community issues may be beyond the scope of eligible brownfield grant funded activities, the community engagement process provides a valuable setting for discussing ways brownfield assessment, cleanup and revitalization contribute to creating safe and secure neighborhoods for current and future residents.