Brownfield and Health Tool gives blighted sites across the state a healthy second chance

A new tool brings hope to some of Minnesota’s more than 10,000 former industrial or commercial sites that are underused or abandoned due to concerns about hazardous contaminants. Revitalizing these sites – called brownfields – can bring people and jobs back to areas, improve neighborhoods, help the environment and promote public health.

The City of Duluth is using the new Brownfield Health Indicator Tool to address the common challenges of transforming brownfields into productive community assets, including the complicated process of identifying and prioritizing redevelopment strategies that will best meet the long-term needs of the environment and community. The tool, developed in partnership with Minnesota Brownfields and the Minnesota Department of Health, aims to streamline project decision-making by focusing on health.

“From social cohesion to healthy housing to community service access, brownfield redevelopment provides an amazing opportunity to shape a wide range of factors that influence public health,” said James Kelly, environmental surveillance and assessment manager for the Minnesota Department of Health. “This tool was developed to help city planners, developers, institutions and communities across Minnesota understand these opportunities and uncover project strategies that are grounded in health equity. When you shape your process through the lens of health equity, benefits for the environment and economy will follow.”

Designed as a self-guided tool by those who influence and work on brownfield projects, the Brownfield Health Indicator Tool’s framework supports existing project decision-making processes. The tool can also help identify potential community health risks, assess the project’s proposed benefits, engage with project stakeholders and prioritize redevelopment strategies that provide multiple benefits.

Idle brownfield sites are often found in economically distressed areas, typically concentrated in urban locations, but they are also found in prime downtown and waterfront locations in nearly every community throughout the state. As abandoned sites, they disrupt ecological, economic and community connections. Revitalizing brownfield sites can offer an opportunity to bring people and jobs back to areas, resolve neighborhood blight, increase community connectivity, restore ecological balance and promote public health.

“Communities across Minnesota are looking for brownfield redevelopment best practices that balance the demands of economic growth with environmental and public health protection,” said Martha Faust, executive director of Minnesota Brownfields. “There are so many things to consider when redeveloping a brownfield site, which makes it difficult to organize and prioritize needs. Our partnerships at state and city levels have demonstrated that we can remove one of the process barriers in brownfield redevelopment by using this tool’s framework and by working on this together, we can better support the revitalization of Minnesota communities.”

The current City of Duluth Irving-Fairmount Brownfields Revitalization Plan draft draws guidance from the Brownfield Health Indicator Tool, specifically in the areas of social cohesion (integrating a neighborhood gathering space), connectivity (new pedestrian trail and improved truck circulation) and economic stability (land redevelopment for both economic development and housing). Health equity and well-being are also core principles, tied to the Imagine Duluth 2035 comprehensive planning process.

“Brownfield redevelopment is all about a do-over,” said Heidi Timm-Bijold, business resources manager for the City of Duluth. “This tool has been a critical asset in making the most of our second chance in the Irving and Fairmount neighborhoods by helping us all better understand, prioritize and elevate what health means for this community and what opportunities this redevelopment offers. By engaging the community and our research team with this tool, we were able to articulate core values for the project that we might have missed otherwise.”

Integrating the tool into their brownfield redevelopment process represents one step in the journey of leveraging brownfields as catalysts for healthy change in the City of Duluth. The city plans to take learnings from this pilot project and use them as a springboard for shaping future redevelopment efforts as it maps out land use for the Imagine Duluth 2035 comprehensive plan.

To access the Brownfield Health Indicator Tool, visit Brownfield Health Indicator Tool or Brownfields and Public Health.

For more information about the City of Duluth’s work, visit Irving-Fairmount Brownfields Revitalization Plan. The City of Duluth project is funded by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Area-Wide Planning Grant, which provides funding to communities to research, plan and develop implementation strategies for cleaning up and revitalizing a specific area affected by one or more brownfield sites.

Media Inquiries:

Hava Blair                                  Anne Hendrickson                                Heidi Timm-Bijold
Minnesota Brownfields           Minnesota Department of Health     City of Duluth
(612) 513-4301                          (651) 201-4171                                       (218) 730-5324
hblair@mnbrownfields.org    anne.hendrickson@state.mn.us        HTimmBijold@duluthmn.gov