What are "Brownfields," and why are they important to the QCA?

Like the fossils left from another time, brownfields are a reminder of the economic prosperity of the past. These reminders can easily be found in the Quad Cities, a place that was once known as the farming implementations capital of the world. Rock Island is one of the cities in the Quad Cities, if not the city, that seems to exemplify this aspect of the Quad Cities. Once the proud home to many large industries, Rock Island now has the challenge and or opportunity to redevelop and to develop these areas. With the remains that they have left behind and in a sense make these plots bloom again.

What is a Brownfield?

A brownfield is a site that is an abandoned, idled, or under-used industrial and/or commercial facility where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination. These sites are important because of the social, economic, and physical effect that they have on the community.

Brownfields constitute a negative social impact on the community because they make the area less attractive because for the most part they are in state of disrepair and decay. The brownfields cause there to be what is referred to as the "missing teeth" look to a community, because they cause a gap in occupied buildings and plots. The opinion that people hold of the area is another social impact because generally the brownfields cause people to hold a more negative impression of the area. Brownfields cause a social problem because they help to exacerbate the problem of urban sprawl in that they occupy land that could be used instead of a greenfield.

The economic impact that they have is negative because they are areas that area generally avoided when it comes to investment. The reason being that they have the cost of getting the land up to code and the contaminants removed or contained associated with them. They are also avoided when dealing with investment because the land is obsolete either in size, form, or because of location. Another reason is that it cost money to change the land, i.e. destroy buildings, rip up pavement etc., a cost that you do not face when you develop on greenfields. Their economic cost can also be indirect because they lower surrounding property values and cause the city to spend more providing services to areas that have been developed in place of the brownfields.

Physical impacts caused by the brownfields are perhaps the most important to individuals, this being because of the harmful pollutants that can be in the site. Where there is a chance that people could come into contact or could indirectly come into contact with the pollutants in the brownfield there can be severe consequences. Another physical impact is that the property is usually filled with random junk, or the structure is in a state of physical deterioration.

These parcels of lands left unused in the centers of cites because of the threat of potentially prohibitive costs associated with cleaning up these lands. The Quad City Industrial Center, International Harvester, as well as Case, and various other closed plants throughout the area are potentially developable, but with lack of resources such as capital and directive, they lay idle. Corporations instead seek out the flexible and relatively inexpensive "greenfield" sites--a site with no known possibility for contamination-- because of the greater reduction in risk associated with a "green" site. This land can be anything from prime farmland on the outskirts of the city, or river basins and floodplains that are very fragile. Also, this land tends to be far more developable in a shorter amount of time.

So What Does This Mean To Rock Island?

The reason why brownfields are so important to Rock Island is because by recovering the sites the community is able make a site that used to be a deficit in almost every way and to turn it into sites that produce revenues and have a positive effect on the community. There have been multiple cities that have been able to transform their brownfields into very productive tax producing sites. Usually the communities that have decided to invest in brownfield recovery have budgets that can handle the cost of cleaning up and selling the land. They also have the motivation that the brownfield site is in an area that can demand a property value that justifies the cost. An economic environment like this is a luxury that Rock Island does not have right now and so the places that they do clean have to be carefully chosen for the most impact for the buck.

Generally the brownfield sites that the city of Rock Island must deal with are gas stations or places that had underground storage for automobile fluids such as oil or gasoline. One of the reasons why most are gas stations is because in the past the cars were not as fuel-efficient. A second reason is that in the past many of the shops were mom and pop shops that had sprung up as a result in the economic boom that the automobile started. Most of the brownfields in Rock Island are gas stations for a third reason, this being that the federal Environmental Protection Agency steps in and cleans up the very serious ones, this was the case at one of the Rock Island platting works.