Emeryville was in a steep economic decline by the 1980s. A host of manufacturing firms pulled out and left behind numerous brownfield sites, some more contaminated than others. At its lowest point, Emeryville had 20 percent of its non-residential property vacant and 40 percent underutilized.

Using a grant from the EPA, Emeryville started a project to monitor groundwater in 1996. The data was mapped using ESRI's ArcInfo software. In addition, the city added map layer information, including street names, property owner information and site management information about brownfield sites. With the data, city officials were able to show regulators and developers that Emeryville's groundwater wasn't as polluted as originally believed. Developers could analyze the maps and locate sites based on their potential for residential, commercial and retail use.

The result has been an incredible development of a once moribund area. Since 1996, Emeryville has added more than 500 housing units, 3.6 million square feet of office space, 830,000 square feet of retail space, 488 hotel rooms and more than 8,000 jobs. Amtrak built a new train station, Pixar Animation Studios developed a 13-acre site, and Swedish home furnishing giant IKEA built a 275,000 square foot store on the site of a former steel mill.

Aware of the power of GIS in providing information for developers, regulators and concerned citizens, Emeryville city officials began putting their GIS maps on the Internet for wider access in 1999. Using ESRI's MapObjects software, they created "One-Stop-Shop", an online, interactive map service.

The Web site shows land parcels using aerial photography, street maps and property owner information, along with chemical concentrations in the soil for each land parcel and chemical concentrations found in groundwater at that location.

According to Ignacio Dayrit, Emeryville's brownfields project director, the site has been a huge benefit for developers who want to see what's going on in terms of real estate activity and the environmental records for a land parcel. But the Web site has also assisted government regulators. "They like having information on contamination that's easy to access rather than in paper files," he said. "They really value the content that we've put out there."

Brownfields Around the Nation

Cities aren't the only ones using GIS and the Internet to display information about brownfields. Many states have developed interactive sites to provide the public with information. For example, New Jersey has launched I-MapNJso that developers and the public can consider brownfield redevelopment opportunities. The state's Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Information Technology, Office of State Planning, the Governor's Urban Coordinating Council and the Brownfields Redevelopment Task Force developed the site collaboratively. I-MapNJ uses ESRI's ArcIMS software and displays data according to a series of pre-selected questions, such as which brownfield sites exist within a specific municipality or within an incentive zone.

Massachusetts has taken a different tack and limits the use of GIS relating to brownfields to its staff of brownfield coordinators at the Department of Environmental Protection. One of the most popular features is an extension that allows coordinators to enter an address and have the GIS report back about whether the location is eligible for federal tax incentives or not and why. Under the $1.5 billion Brownfields Tax Incentive program, environmental cleanup costs for properties in targeted areas are fully deductible. These areas include EPA Brownfield Pilot areas, census tracts where 20 percent or more of the population is below the poverty level; or census tracts that have a population under 2,000 and have 75 percent or more of their land zoned for commercial or industrial use.

But as many state and local officials are finding out, interactive GIS Web sites are only as good as the data they contain. If the information is inaccurate or out of date, users will soon recognize the problems and limitations, and stop using the site. Prime culprits for old or inaccurate data are a city's own departments or agencies, who see little reason to share their data with a redevelopment agency. Several brownfield project managers complained about the lack of support in terms of data sharing.

"Keeping data updated is a huge issue," said one city official from Boston. "We don't have a good system for sharing information between agencies. It's done entirely on an informal basis."

Tod Newcombe  |  Features Editor