October 18 2012

Brownfields on the River’s Edge: Minnesota and the Mississippi

The connected metro-regions of Minneapolis and St. Paul, in Minnesota, are at the forefront of brownfield remediation. The Twin Cities exhibit several exemplary projects that demonstrate the positive reception of toxic sites converted to public space.  Urban planners, environmental lawyers, state agencies, and landscape architects each have major roles in this transformative process.

The EPA offers many resources for the clean up of toxic brownfields.Brownfield remediation is the process of reusing abandoned industrial sites as productive spaces following the clean up of toxins, often through bioengineered solutions. Among the contaminants one might expect to cope with are asbestos, heavy metals, and hydrocarbons. These might be spread across a site, found in isolated soil deposits, or could be contained in aging underground tanks.

The Twin Cities are built upon industry from the early mills for timber and grain refining in the St. Anthony Falls area, to the recently closed Ford Automotive Plant near downtown St. Paul. Besides these, many other examples of industrial zones can be found adjacent to the Mississippi River.

As urban planning continues to value the greening of formerly contaminated sites, many incentives are available to clean toxic sites for productive reuse.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides technical and economic assistance for the redevelopment of brownfields. Locally, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency maintains an extensive website with valuable information ranging from the types of contaminates typically found, success stories about cleanups, and interactive maps of specific brownfield sites.

Mill Ruins Park, a popular park in Minneapolis was once a contaminated site.The successful Mill Ruins Park and Gold Medal Park in Minneapolis are built upon contaminated soils associated with the mills that formerly dominated the landscape just above the Mississippi River. Gold Medal Park, a 7.5-acre greenspace is built using capped-landfill soils to construct a large hill offering expansive views of the built and natural environment.  In St. Paul, a 30-acre idled concrete plant was purchased by the Port Authority and transformed into a business park.  This project removed an unattractive eyesore from downtown, eliminated groundwater and airborne pollutants, and created a business center with more than 400 employees.

What are some success stories of brownfield remediation where you live?  How are these places re-used and what is the public’s perception of the cleanup process?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Matthew Traucht

Matthew Traucht graduated from the University of New Mexico with a B.A. in cultural anthropology and is now pursuing his Master of Landscape Architecture at the University of Minnesota’s College of Design. Inspired by the work he was doing as an archaeologist in New Mexico where he studied prehistoric lifeways and preindustrial agricultural techniques; Matthew established an organic farm business. Eventually this led him to join the US Peace Corps where he served as a Natural Resources Volunteer in The Gambia from 2007-2009. For the last five years he has been blogging about some of his observations about the interactions between nature and culture, most recently on Desire Lines. Now, as a graduate student, Matthew is interested in sustainable communities, brownfield remediation, and historic cultural landscape preservation.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, October 18th, 2012 at 2:50 pm and is filed under Environment, Environmental Design, Land Use, Landscape Architecture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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2 Responses to “Brownfields on the River’s Edge: Minnesota and the Mississippi”

  1. Innovating the Landscape from Ordnance to Ordinance in Minnesota | The GRID | Global Site Plans Says:

    [...] process in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul. A few miles from the heart of one of the more successful projects – Mill Ruins Park – lies UMore Park (University of Minnesota Outreach, Research, and [...]

  2. Matthew Traucht: A Farewell to Global Site Plans and The Grid | The GRID | Global Site Plans Says:

    [...] candidate at the University of Minnesota has exposed me to many of the issues that I wrote about: Brownfield remediation, contested spaces, and cultural landscapes are typical discussions in my program. Writing for [...]

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