Cleanup of contaminated “brownfields” concentrated in areas undergoing gentrification

Aug. 17, 2022
map of VCP sites

New York City is replete with brownfields—former industrial or commercial sites rendered hazardous by decades of environmental contamination. The high cost of remediation often dissuades developers from purchasing and repurposing these properties.

In an interactive article in Urban Omnibus, a publication of the Architectural League of New York, Associate Professor Glen Johnson, doctoral student Alexander Mendell and colleagues illustrate that, although New York City’s toxic legacy is broadly distributed across the five boroughs, actual cleanups are largely concentrated in neighborhoods with the highest levels of gentrification.

In 2009, the city launched its Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP), offering tax breaks and other incentives to drive the clean-up and repurposing of these problematic properties. In the article, the researchers mapped these completed VCP sites, along with sites that are potentially contaminated, and demographic shifts over the last two decades and found that, while toxicity is widely distributed across the city, cleanup is highly concentrated where gentrification follows rezoning from industrial to residential, for example.

“The city has done a good job attempting to rebalance the uneven distribution of these sites through grants and incentives,” Dr. Johnson says. “But our map shows that more needs to be done to balance the distribution of cleanup projects across the city.”

Read the article here.