Urban Development, and with state and local governments in helping to assess, clean up and reuse brownfield sites.

In January, President George W. Bush signed legislation that doubled the funds available -- to $200 million -- to help cities and states clean up brownfield sites. In addition, the president's budget proposed a permanent extension to the Brownfield Tax Incentive, which encourages the redevelopment of brownfields.

The surge in federal support comes in the wake of growing interest among cities and states in revitalizing these abandoned sites around the country. For example, a 2000 survey of 187 cities by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that by cleaning up existing brownfield sites and returning the areas to production, cities could generate as many as 540,000 new jobs. And at least 175 cities estimated brownfield redevelopment could generate up to $2.4 billion in local tax revenue.

The EPA is helping communities return brownfields to active use by funding pollution assessments of sites -- with grants generally in the range of $200,000 -- and once a site is deemed clean enough for development, issuing a memo of understanding that states the EPA will leave a developer alone to pursue redevelopment of the site, unless something significant reappears. According to the EPA's Jordan, there are different degrees of cleanup, depending on what the site will be used for. If a site is designated for commercial use, the level of cleanup isn't going to be nearly as high as it would be if the site was going to be converted into apartments, he pointed out. "We try to lower hurdles and make it easier to get to a solution while protecting the environment," said Jordan.

Brownfield Technology

As cities and states shift their emphasis on brownfields from environmental issues to development potential, the role of technology has grown. Communities want to know what other communities are doing in terms of cleanup and redevelopment, and developers are eager to know what properties are available and the potential economic value of the site based on its location. The public is also interested in learning what's going to happen with an abandoned site and what alternatives are available for development.

The chief tool for collecting, analyzing and presenting information on brownfields is GIS. With its ability to link geographic reference points with various types of data and then overlay the information on an electronic map, GIS has become the technology of choice for state and local officials trying to solve brownfield problems.

In 1997, New York City began using GIS to determine which of the city's industrial zoned properties were vacant and suitable for redevelopment. By overlaying local political boundaries, city officials were able to identify and approach local community groups and enlist their help in deciding which properties to clean and develop first, as well as find out how the local groups wanted to see the properties developed: for commercial, residential or recreational purposes.

In Boston, the city's redevelopment agency has been using GIS extensively to help developers learn what brownfield sites are available and what sort of federal or state funding exists. The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) currently lists 50 publicly owned sites and, through its Boston Atlas Web site, lets developers view and analyze the sites' potential. "Our GIS shows each lot's potential with multiple layers of information about transportation, utilities, commercial, manufacturing or residential activity in the area," said Noah Luskin, BRA's brownfields coordinator. What the GIS doesn't show is the extent of possible contamination at each site. "Our objective is to show the sites' value, not its liability," he explained.

One of the earliest examples of a city using GIS to clean and redevelop brownfields is Emeryville, Calif., a small industrial city surrounded by Berkeley and Oakland. Once bustling with business,

Tod Newcombe  |  Features Editor