It Takes a Village: Agency and Community Stakeholders Work Together for Community Revitalization in The Virgin Islands
How do we work together to build a better, stronger Virgin Islands? Dr. Clanicia Pelle from the VI Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) and Schenine Mitchell from the U.S. EPA grapple with this question on a daily basis. Ahead of the **It Takes a Village: Working Together for Revitalization Summit, organized by the U.S. EPA, Center for Creative Land Recycling, and VI DPNR, I took some time to speak with these experienced practitioners to learn more about the VI’s unique redevelopment challenges, the strides they’ve made thus far, and what’s next in land reuse and community development.
**Due to the spread of COVID-19, this event has been postponed. A replacement date is being considered. Learn more about the Center for Creative Land Recycling and our technical assisstance services below.
Over the past few years, the Virgin Islands has encountered numerous challenges including economic downturn, housing shortage, and an onslaught of extreme weather events that have exposed and perpetuated infrastructure deficiencies. But as serious as these challenges are, so too is the resolve to overcome them and build a stronger VI.
Building a Better Brownfields Program
Dr. Clanicia Pelle and Schenine Mitchell make early strides in VI land reuse
Since the start of her tenure at DPNR nearly 20 years ago, Dr. Clanicia Pelle has played a pivotal role in making land reuse and redevelopment a priority in community revitalization. Not only did she manage grant administration during her time at DPNR, she’s also worked to pass key legislation and draft rules and regulations that would form the backbone of a robust and comprehensive brownfields redevelopment program.
Thanks to DPNR’s foundational work, redevelopment in the VI has made monumental strides in just the past few years. Schenine Mitchell was instrumental in facilitating and leading this programmatic growth. Schenine, who’s spent 20 years as a Brownfields Program Officer in EPA’s Region 2 (which covers New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands), partnered with DPNR to host two VI grant writing workshops in 2019. The first covered EPA’s Environmental Workforce and Job Development Training grants, and the second outlined Assessment, Cleanup, and Revolving Loan Fund grants. The outcome of these workshops cannot be overstated. Not only did they facilitate greater collaboration between local, regional, and federal stakeholders, but as a result, EPA Region 2 received its first ever grant application from a Virgin Islands entity.
Building on Early Success
Our brownfield champions consider next steps, top priorities, and key elements of this year’s Summit.
The redevelopment wheel is turning in the Virgin Islands. Schenine Mitchell and Dr. Pelle hope to build on the momentum at this year’s Summit by prioritizing capacity building and community engagement; emphasizing the importance of collaboration between stakeholders; and stressing how land reuse can support resilient, sustainable development for a stronger VI.
- “There’s life after assessment and cleanup.” – Schenine Mitchell
This year’s Summit is designed to look at the big picture of brownfields redevelopment. What happens after remediation and how can EPA and other stakeholders support the revitalization process “from point A to Z?” Throughout the program, speakers will identify how land reuse is central to job creation, economic revitalization, and sustainability and outline methods of engagement to build capacity and empower practitioners.
Capacity building begins with information sharing but it doesn’t end there. Laying out the purpose and methods of productive collaboration between local and federal stakeholders is paramount in the capacity building process. In our interview, Dr. Pelle emphasized that although DPNR has done an excellent job laying the foundation for brownfields redevelopment in the VI, input and buy in from other stakeholders are needed to round out project proposals, supplement funding, and drive economic development. This concept – that it takes a village to redevelop a brownfield – will be central to the Summit’s programming. Representatives from over a dozen agencies and partner entities will share land reuse related resources and outline effective methods for interagency collaboration.
Brownfield redevelopment isn’t just about fixing what’s broken, it’s about making what’s new better than it’s ever been. In the Virgin Islands, this means incorporating resilience and sustainability into design so that new infrastructure can weather the impact of extreme storms and other natural disasters. Dr. Pelle remarked that, “hurricane [Maria] exposed a lot of faults,” not only in infrastructure, but also in planning, flood mitigation, and building materials. She believes that brownfield redevelopment can be used not only as a tool for community revitalization but also as a means of improving VI’s disaster preparedness and self sufficiency. This sentiment was echoed by Schenine Mitchell. As extreme weather events increase in frequency and devastation, resilience and climate adaptation measures have solidified their place as critical components of the land reuse process.
Building a Better VI
Come to the Summit with ideas, leave inspired and capable of implementing them.
Land reuse is complex. It’s multifaceted and interdisciplinary nature makes the process long and intricate but it also opens doors to greater public engagement, improved stakeholder cross talk, and more effective collaborative partnerships – a recipe for redevelopment success.
Join us on **May 19th in St. Croix where we’ll collectively address the question that Dr. Pelle so poignantly posed in her interview: “What can we do as a community to identify, assess, and redevelop properties so we build a better Virgin Islands – a stronger Virgin Islands.”
**Due to the spread of COVID-19, this event has been postponed. A replacement date is being considered.
In the meantime, here’s how you can connect with the Center for Creative Land Recycling:
- Watch for and register for webinars and video trainings publicized in our Newsletter and on our Online Learning Opportunities webpage
- Subscribe to our Virgin Islands specific newsletter.
- Have a land reuse story to tell, a project to profile, or an event or resource to share? Let us know! Email [email protected] with your thoughts and/or questions. Your submission could be featured in an upcoming newsletter.
- Got a brownfields redevelopment question or inquiry? Ask the Experts! Our experienced brownfield mentors are happy to answer your questions about grants, regulatory issues, remediation, and more.
The Center for Creative Land Recycling (CCLR, or “See Clear”) is the leading national nonprofit dedicated to transforming communities through land recycling. Over the past two decades, CCLR has convened, navigated, and influenced the redevelopment industry. Our programs educate the public sector and community stakeholders to clean up and repurpose underutilized and environmentally impacted properties in a sustainable, equitable and responsible manner. At CCLR we believe that with the right training, incentives, and conditions — chiefly, community support, municipal leadership, and an active corporate partner — the redevelopment of brownfields changes communities for the better.