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Is that Brownfield, Brown? Perception vs. Reality


A former brownfield site (left) that is now the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market (right)

This is a guest post by Ann Marie Gathright, Account Executive, Environmental Standards, Inc./Vitale Scientific Associates, LLC.

Recently, the social media outlets were awash with pictures of “#thedress.”  A great debate raged on from Tumblr to Facebook to Instagram as to the colors of that little nondescript dress.  I saw white and gold.  My daughter saw blue and black.  We hypothesized as to how that would be.  Eye color.  Age.  Gender.  Left Brain vs. Right Brain. 

Academics and neuroscientists were interviewed.  Explanations ranged from how light enters our eyes, to the wavelengths of colors to our expectations.  For example, my daughter looks at tofu and sees deliciousness.  She anticipates a nourishing, yummy meal.  I see something else.

In the realm of the environmental world, perception and reality struggle for territory.  Celebrities and scientists compete for that definition of what’s true, THE REALITY.  Ironies abound, no?

EPA’s Brownfields program provides the space for perception and reality to coexist; where they can materialize into something better than what they were individually.  I can point to dozens of examples; projects where my firm and others have had the privilege of playing a role.  Where once trash blew across vacant lots, families now picnic and children race around playgrounds.  Former junkyards have been transformed into the home of thriving businesses and the world’s largest refrigerator.  Seriously.

Those success stories required vision and perseverance and a desire for better.  Those first baby steps involved inviting landowners, economic development leaders, planners and other community members to change their perceptions of distressed real estate; to see a new reality.  I remember the first public meeting (charrette) in which I participated.  The room was electric with ideas and energy.  Perception and Reality had front row seats.  At the end of the process, a new vision of reality for that city was created.  The perception that the abandoned properties were tragic and a lost cause were replaced with interest in how to create new realities for those sites.

Here is what I “see” when I look at Brownfields: I see hope, vibrancy, and renewal.  I see the possibilities for a new beginning.  I see partnerships and success stories.  I see economic development crusaders and planners and citizens working together to lift up their towns and cities and improve the lives of their residents.  I see light where there was darkness.

EPA’s Brownfields grant program provides the seed money for communities to create new realities.  Later this year, EPA will announce funding opportunities for communities to assess and remediate Brownfields sites.   This is an excellent time to start envisioning a new reality.

For the record, my perception was incorrect.  The dress is blue and black.  Good thing, I have much better vision when it comes to Brownfields.

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