I was in my late twenties when I was exposed to the idea of greenfield and brownfield development. Never having formal training on urban planning or economic development, it took me some time to understand what was involved. Simply put, greenfields include undeveloped land (in a city or rural area) that has never been built upon. Brownfields, in contrast, are abandoned areas of previous industrial or commercial use which have the potential for redevelopment. Both spaces hold opportunity for fresh purpose and use; be it recreational, commercial or some other type of development.
Living in a mid-size city that possesses many brownfield and greenfield assets, the subject of brownfield versus greenfield development always seemed to spark lively conversation and imagination. In some ways, it was equally scary to entertain either option. There was something about our untouched land that seemed sacred and safe. Paving paradise to put up a parking lot felt like corruption of something formerly pure and sacred. At the same time, brownfield development could mean resurrecting the dead; scouring through toxins and reliving old failures and wounds.
It does seem that strange metaphors have a tendency to find their way into my brain at just the right time. These images, however, hold symbolic meaning for most of our lives. As we think about the year ahead, there are undoubtedly undeveloped lands where the soil is ready to be tilled. It can feel risky to try something new….to pave a way into the wilderness. Past screw-ups or disappointments can weld themselves into our psyche enough to convince us that not trying is better than “getting it wrong.” Therefore, too many canvasses don’t get painted and musical instruments don’t get played. People don’t get the help they need and we unconsciously convince ourselves that life is easier spent passively consuming than actively creating. On the other hand, revisiting wastelands can also seem risky and painful. Whether it is a relationship that needs forgiveness and mending or a project in the garage that I’ve started three times and can’t seem to finish, brownfields require me to clean through a mess to find new glory revealed. In reality, some brownfields need to be left alone. The investment required to decontaminate or resurrect old structures just aren’t worth it at this time. However, each one of us probably have areas of life that we thought were dead that just need a little disciplined effort and creativity to be given new or refreshed purpose again.
I’m grateful to say that at Think Tank we are constantly given the opportunity for greenfield and brownfield development, metaphorically speaking. This year holds the promise of new collaborations that give platform for people, who are transcending poverty, to share their stories and be given greater influence to lead change. Additionally, we have some old projects that we’re excited to dust off and bring new life to again.
I hope you’ll take the next few days in quiet reflection and imagination about your life’s areas of wilderness and wasteland, waiting to be developed in 2019.
Marlo Fox, Executive Director, Think Tank, Inc.
To learn more about Marlo’s work, please visit thinktank-inc.org