Vacant to Vibrant, Land Renewal connects communities with resources for land reuse
In many communities there are properties that remain unused despite needs in the neighborhood. These sites, often called brownfields, may host actual or suspected contamination from prior commercial, industrial, agricultural, or residential use. These properties could actually be opportunity sites and can be developed to address needs for affordable housing, food accessibility, public health centers, and can help improve overall community health and wellbeing. Brownfields have the potential to address environmental injustice and act as the catalyst to revitalize neighborhoods. Land reuse can increase employment opportunities, establish parks and gathering spaces, decrease sprawl, and reduce local contamination.
But, how does one start and navigate the reuse process? How can communities determine the best funding sources for the stagnant lots in their neighborhood? City staff, nonprofit staff, or community groups may have low capacity to consider vacant sites, limited access to grant writers or consultants, small networks of practitioners, and a limited amount of time. Such roadblocks have the ability to slow or halt a project and leave a brownfield vacant, yet full of potential.
This is where we can help. The Vacant to Vibrant, Land Renewal (V2V) program is designed to meet communities where they are and deliver free technical assistance for land reuse projects. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Pacific Southwest Region 9 (EPA R9) has partnered with CCLR to launch this initiative, which prioritizes contact with underserved communities – those facing environmental justice issues who have rarely or never worked with the EPA R9 Brownfields team, which covers Arizona, Nevada, California, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands. CCLR and EPA invite community leaders in local government agencies, nonprofit organizations or community groups to schedule a one-on-one meeting with a representative from EPA and CCLR. With each V2V call, we are creating lasting, attentive, professional relationships with communities to build staff capacity and directly address common blockers to brownfield reuse funding.
Within the Vacant to Vibrant program, EPA and CCLR address a gap in EPA outreach and engagement among Region 9 communities and aim to be the first partners to those tackling issues that can be addressed with land revitalization. These are the questions we ask during a V2V meeting to establish our listen-first strategy.
- What are some of the highest priority issues your community is currently facing?
- Do you have specific sites, or a target area in mind for your reuse goals?
- Do you have any non-profits, community groups, or organizations that your team can partner with to build capacity for a project?
- What does success look like to you?
A community may not see a completed reuse for years after the project begins, so we also look to interim successes, which happen at each step in the revitalization process and include achievements such as completing a brownfields inventory and gaining local board approval, completing a site assessment, establishing a funding source, or actual ground breaking and starting the development for the reuse. The Vacant to Vibrant, Land Renewal program breaks down the bureaucratic barrier between EPA Brownfields programs and community members looking to improve public health, wellbeing, and cultural collaboration in their neighborhoods by prioritizing their voices, goals, and successes.
So far, the Vacant to Vibrant team has met with 62 communities to discuss diverse concerns such as soil contamination on vacant lots, unemployment trends, and historic preservation needs. CCLR and EPA also hosted a three-part webinar series to launch the V2V program and introduce our team. This resource can now be found on CCLR’s Youtube channel, CCLRtv. Titled Vibrant Communities Rise from Vacant Lands, the series shares information on the components of land reuse, describes the services available within V2V, and welcomes speakers from Region 9 communities to share their interim land reuse successes .
So, it’s your move! If you are a land reuse professional or community member looking to get involved with brownfield revitalization, you already have two partners ready to work with you and your community vision. A Vacant to Vibrant meeting with CCLR and EPA Region 9 can be scheduled using this Calendly page. You can also visit us at the upcoming California Land Recycling Conference 2023 in Carson, CA, and the National Brownfields Conference 2023 in Detroit, MI, where we will present our work in panel and topic-talk discussions. Vacant to Vibrant is proud to be a resource to underserved Region 9 communities with abandoned sites and revitalization goals, and we continue to support and celebrate the beneficial reuse of brownfields to uplift existing communities.