The Underappreciated Benefits of “Green” Urban Brownfields

by Dan McCabe

Sustainable urban planning aims to ensure that urban development patterns do as little ecological harm as possible, but new research suggests that conventional planning approaches neglect a significant contributor to urban environmental health. Mathey et al. (2015) studied the effects of urban brownfields, formerly developed sites that have been abandoned and remain underused, and found that vegetation-rich “green” brownfields provide a variety of valuable ecological services to their areas. The benefits of these services depend on the type and amount of vegetation at a particular site, its location, and human intervention, but green urban brownfields overall show a large potential to aid the goals of sustainable development. Specifically, brownfields provide habitats that support enhanced biological diversity, aid microclimate by cooling the unnaturally warm urban environment, and provide local residents with recreational opportunities. These findings were obtained via a literature review, climate modeling, and a survey of local residents. The authors concluded that green urban brownfields should receive more credit for their ecosystem services and the most effective way to reap their benefits is to leave them mostly wild, while possibly converting some area to recreational spaces. Continue reading