Brownfields grants double their benefit with new health center trend

An architect’s rendering of the future Spectrum Health Services building. Image via Spectrum Health Services.

Cleaning up contaminated land – known to environmental regulators as “brownfields” – has a long list of health benefits as a result of cleaner air, water and soil. Now, a cleaned up brownfield site might fix your sprained ankle, too.

A growing number of brownfield sites across the country are being turned in to community health centers, increasing the already substantial benefits of these ambitious projects. The New York Times discusses the growing movement:

In recent years, health care facilities have been built on cleaned-up sites in Florida, Colorado, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Oregon and California.

“These health care providers are getting good at it,” said Elizabeth Schilling, policy manager for Smart Growth America, an advocacy group. “They have internalized the idea that this is an opportunity for them.”

Many of these projects have been made possible by brownfields remediation grants. Spectrum Health Services, non-profit community health agency in Philadelphia, PA, is one example. Spectrum spent 15 years looking for a new home and finally found a lot on Haverford Avenue in West Philadelphia, which at the time was home to an aging office building. The old building was insulated with asbestos making it a classified brownfield. With the help of a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as well as the State of Pennsylvania, Spectrum is now building a 36,000 square foot health care center on the site which will serve families in the area.

The grants do more than just clean up land. They can catalyze development in neighborhoods stuck in the vicious cycle of blight and protect the environment, too. Phyllis B. Cater, chief executive of Specturm Health Services, explained to the Times:

“It’s a Catch-22. The environmental issues are significant and yet there are scarce resources for communities to do the cleanup and remediation that’s required.”

In March of this year, Smart Growth America released From Vacancy to Vibrancy, a primer for community leaders interested in brownfield redevelopment. By addressing contaminated sites in the context of broader neighborhood market conditions, needs and goals, community leaders can realize economies of scale and make new resources available for site cleanup.

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