Exploring Environmental Challenges to Redevelopment in the Greater East St Louis Area
UP474 Neighborhood Planning 2008-2009
Brownfields are tricky. Difficult to redevelop for liability reasons, they often sit idle for decades. The first step of redeveloping a brownfield is to research the condition of the property piecing together a story from myriad sources. This is not as easy as it may sound.
In the fall of 2008, students in the Neighborhood Planning course at the University of Illinois’ Department of Urban and Regional Planning began to research the barriers to brownfields redevelopment in East St. Louis. Broken up in to four teams, the class researched potential brownfields in Dayton-Wedgewood Neighborhood, Emerson Park Neighborhood and City of Centreville, and also abandoned gas stations throughout the City of East St. Louis. This project was supported by the East St. Louis Action Research Project and a grand from the Community Informatics Initiative at the University of Illinois.
In post-industrial cities, like East St. Louis, where much of the land has potential for contamination, redevelopment done by community groups is not as simple as purchasing land and building. In order to create a strategic and responsible redevelopment plan (both for the financial health of the organization and the physical health of its constituents), community based organizations need to understand the scope of contamination before diving headlong into development. Unfortunately, what the class found was that by and large, the information necessary to determine if brownfield redevelopment is feasible is extremely difficult to compile with some information non-existent, lost to history, or poorly maintained.
The intention of this website is to provide background information about how to gather information about the environmental history of a property. This fact finding will assist in redevelopment strategies and options. Guided by similar work done in the St. Louis area by Sarah Coffin at St. Louis University, our class used a source-guide for collecting information (See “Some Practical Method for Identifying Brownfields” Coffin, 2003). East St. Louis faces many of the same challenges that Coffin’s describes in working with low-capacity St. Louis communities.
This website identifies sources available to research potential brownfield sites in East St. Louis as well as some guidance around missing pieces. It should be noted that the sources and methods outlined in this site are not a substitute for professional site assessment, rather as an approach to begin to understand the potential environmental hazards before spending limited resources on purchasing land and proposing development plans.