Chicago’s Brownfield Initiative To Reclaim Urban Sprawl And Economic Resources

2606 words - 10 pages

Chicago’s Brownfield Initiative to Reclaim Urban Sprawl and Economic Resources


Brownfields are abandoned, idled or underused industrial and commercial properties where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived contamination. In 1993, representatives from the Chicago Departments of Environment, Planning and Development, Buildings, Law, and the Mayor Office came together to develop a strategy for promoting cleanup and redevelopment of the City’s brownfields. The city developed a three- pronged initiative based on this strategy. This paper will focus on Chicago’s efforts to reclaim urban sprawl and return the city’s abandoned or underused properties to productive use. Background information will be provided as well as the issues that concerned the development and an analysis of the procedures, the policies utilized and the outcome.


Two miles west of the Loop, many of Chicago's communities have devolved into crumbled cement and poverty. Major streets are both populated with teenagers, clusters of children moving with care, fast food joints and liquor stores and abandoned buildings. There is virtually no economic development in these communities.

Tucked between these grid points of workaday urban blight are the vestiges of a once vibrant west side. However, this vision has been replaced and now stands factories and buildings that have been long neglected by owners or simply abandoned. These properties have come to be known as "brownfields," their smoked glass windows concealing potential environmental disaster. The new caretakers are homeless squatters, who relentlessly tear the buildings to pieces. Ragged demolition crews, pushing stolen shopping carts, are constantly in transit between the buildings and the recycling centers.

Due to this and other factors, the Chicago Brownfields Initiative was established in 1993, to develop a strategy for environmental cleanup of industrial real estate development in order to create jobs and generate tax revenue. The pilot program would clean up and prepare five sites for private redevelopment.

Since this was involving a new approach to solving redevelopment and economics issues, there was a lot of uncertainty involved in the process. Chicago was a pilot program and a lot of city resources needed to be utilized and developed to ensure success. Which in the past little financial support was given to brownfield development projects from the public sector. Also, complex spheres of regulatory jurisdiction needed special attention so many outside sources were pulled together to help achieve significant economic, social and aesthetic benefits. However, it is important to understand that this project was by no means a "giveaway", but the notion of the brownfield initiatives was to benefit and recover investments during subsequent sale or development. This was the way to return jobs back to the city and target the urban sprawl that was rampantly...

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