Soil Quality

Environment and the Economy, "Brownfields are a legacy of a century of industrialization - they are abandoned,, idle or underutilized commercial or industrial properties where past actions have caused known or suspected environmental contamination, but where there is an active potential for redevelopment.

There may be as many as 30,000 such sites in Canada. They include decommissioned refineries, former railway yard, old waterfronts and riverbanks, crumbling warehouses and other commercial properties where toxic substances may have been used or stored. Left idle and unmanaged, brownfields represent a significant loss of economic opportunity.They adversely affect a neighbourhood's image and quality of life, and in some cases pose risks to human health and the environment.

Brownfields also represent an untapped opportunity to revitalize older neighbourhoods and generate wealth for communities. With the right kind of incentives and partnerships, brownfields can have a bright future. Already, several thousand sites have been cleaned up in Canada, creating tens of thousand of jobs, millions of dollars in additional property taxes and thousands of new housing units. With the package of supportive measures outlined in this national strategy, Canada's nascent brownfield redevelopment industry could evolve rapidly into a business worth many billions of dollars a year.

In addition to direct commercial benefits realized by the developers and users of the land, brownfield redevelopment within cities (instead of the development of so-called "greenfield" land on the city's periphery) has the potential to generate up to seven billion dollars a year in public benefits in Canada. These public benefits arrive through the increased economic productivity of the surrounding and, increased tax revenues, lower municipal infrastructure costs, reduced health risks, preservation of agricultural land, less air pollution and improved neighbourhoods.

The case for redeveloping Canada's brownfields is strong. Experience with brownfield redevelopment in Canada, the United States and Europe suggests that, while specific circumstances may vary, significant benefits are consistently seen in the following areas:

Economic benefits:

  • creation and retention of employment opportunities
  • increased competitiveness for cities
  • increased export potential for Canadian cleanup technologies
  • increased tax base for all three levels of government

Social benefits:

  • improved quality of life in neighbourhoods (people can live closer to work and recreational facilities
  • removal of threats to human health and safety
  • access to affordable housing

Environmental benefits:

  • reduced urban sprawl on Greenfield sites around community
  • restoration of environmental quality in the community
  • improved air quality and reduced greenhouse gas emissions in urban areas"10

It is clear that air, water and soil quality, as well as water quantity, are strongly linked to urban form.

10. National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. 2003. Cleaning up the Past, Building the Future: A National Brownfield Redevelopment Strategy for Canada. (p. ix-x)