Date: November/December, 2016
Publication: ReNew Canada, Pg 31-32

Breaking down the barriers to brownfield redevelopment in Canada.

RRA 007c (resized)
The current focus on intensification in our major cities, and construction around public transit systems, has revitalized the interest in previously developed properties, often brownfields. The term brownfields was coined in the early 1990s and refers to previously developed properties that are vacant, derelict, and under-used but have potential for redevelopment. The brownfield property lies idle and contaminated from former industrial or commercial uses that have since closed. Throughout history, industrial and commercial developments were located within city cores and along waterways. In many cases, these properties are highly valuable for redevelopment, most often to residential or mixed commercial and/or residential uses. Redevelopment of these properties encourages intensification and utilizes existing infrastructure.


Restrictions on urban sprawl and development of greenfields (previously undeveloped) are having an impact on how we build our cities and locate our growing populations. This has created intensification pressures and demand for the space that brownfields occupy.

When the demand for the property is there, and a higher and better use is known and desired, the cost of the remediation of contamination prior to redevelopment can be overcome. However, without the demand, the brownfield site often sits idle for decades, creating lasting stigma and potential liabilities for the owners, the community, and area residents. Most large cities in Canada have the built-in demand for space with relatively high and rising property values, and thus, redevelopment opportunities can be realized. Even with the built-in demand, a number of barriers for redevelopment can exist.

The built-in demand in larger cities includes higher property values and higher redevelopment potential, making many of these properties low-hanging fruit for developers willing to accept greater liabilities and remediation requirements. However, there are many sites in smaller communities where the same liabilities and remediation costs cannot be sustained by the property values and low demand for redevelopment.

How do we enable the smaller communities to take on the challenge, accept partial liabilities, find the funding, and engage a developer when the property location is not desirable or the return on investment (ROI) will not attract interest? Perhaps a federal program and involvement for these situations would provide some relief from the municipal burden.

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