Frances Whitehead


New Landscape Paradigms for Post Carbon Cities
SLOW Cleanup –Test Plot Garden, Forb Plugs; Dimensions: 125ft x 135 ft (5 city lots); Digital Photo; Summer 2011


Tips for Success with Brownfields


The specific organizations listed below apply to Brownfields in the USA.  However the principles for engagement and the science remain the same and should apply in most locales.


  • Opt in - Brownfield remediation is a collective, cooperative activity, and best accomplished in partnership with community leaders and local government. For best results, find out who is already doing brownfields work in your area and become an active participant in the collective process.


  • Inform Yourself  - To be effective, and to be taken seriously, learn the basics of remediation science.  It’s a crucial step and it’s not that hard. Don’t assume that phytoremediation is the answer until you know the nature of the contamination on our site; every type of contamination requires a specific technology.  There is a lot of misinformation out there and “urban myths” persist, especially around lead cleanup. What is the specific condition of the land in question? How much is already known? Who owns it? Who is already knowledgeable and involved? The US EPA publishes an excellent introduction, A Citizens Guide to Phytoremediation,


  • Do the Legwork - If your site has contamination, chances are, local government officials already know a lot about the property. State and local governments frequently have online databases and offices to assist with Land and Environmental issues. Seriously contaminated properties might also appear in Federal databases such as   Any information that exists in public agencies is available to you under FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act.  Know your rights under FOIA


  • Find the Team - Beyond local government, be imaginative in identifying potential partners and collaborators who might be interested in your project.  These might include “openspace” advocacy groups, urban agriculture groups, social justice groups, local vendors, business neighbors, philanthropic initiatives and local academics.   Academic researchers in your area may prove useful to assist with technical issues, and also to provide credentials and expertise for grant seeking. There are many underutilized knowledge based assets in every community. Consider the merits of intellectual exchange and civic engagement as a form of “value”. Give some thought to what you can offer them; ask what they can offer the project.


  • Take the Long View -  Be in it for the long haul. Brownfields work is highly regulated to protect human and ecosystem health, and regulated work takes time. Community consultative processes and grant funding cycles also have their own calendars.  In addition, phytoremediation is a slow process, 2-5 years at least. These disturbed sites took decades to degrade; they will not be cleaned up over night. Expect to be involved with your site for at least 5 years.