1: The Story of Blight and Area-Wide Planning

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Area-wide planning or “Corridor Projects” are community-driven efforts to see a series of problems in and around the main part of a town as the fertile grounds for major improvement, the opportunities for sustainable development.

- Scott Wilson Badenoch Jr., Esq., MDR, Founder, BRIGHT

Goals of the BRIGHT Guide

Why Corridor Projects?

Goals of the BRIGHT Guide


The BRIGHT Guide seeks to empower just, equitable, and self-defined sustainable development by providing local communities with tools and resources to organize and lead the process of revitalization for themselves. 

Collectively, the Guide's chapters walk readers through the process of creating and implementing a Corridor Project to ultimately produce positive health, ecological, and economic outcomes in overburdened communities. 

Although the Guide is useful to a wide variety of audiences, such as government officials, environmental consulting firms, or environmental non-profits, it aims to be most valuable to local communities that have been disproportionately burdened by blight, divestment, and brownfields. Long and ongoing legacies of environmental racism have drained these areas of their wealth, economic activity, and ecological health, leaving behind aging infrastructure, vacant and environmentally impaired properties, heightened vulnerability to natural disasters, and chronic underemployment, as well as a human population riddled with health issues caused by the permitted facilities.

Specifically, many past government policies and practices, like redlining and the use of restrictive covenants, produced racially segregated cities and thus allowed investments into public infrastructure, economic development, and environmental protection to be concentrated in predominantly wealthy, white areas, leaving the communities of color to live amongst industrial toxicity.

While targeted economic development in overburdened areas is key, historically, such efforts have often led to the displacement of long-time residents due to the harmful process of gentrification. The remediation of brownfields and growth of more sustainable end uses often results in increased property taxes, housing prices, and retail prices in the area. Without intentional policies and practices to account for this, economically disadvantaged community members are often replaced by young, middle-class professionals who can afford the higher cost of living. In this way, brownfield revitalization can operate as a tool of environmental racism if anti-gentrification measures are not implemented in conjunction with the sustainable development, such as local hiring and training programs and rent-to-own programs so long-time local residents can attain the stake in their community they deserve.

To avoid increased gentrification, the BRIGHT Guide infuses principles of environmental justice and critical race theory throughout its chapters. By emphasizing race-conscious, anti-gentrification practices, the Guide transforms brownfield revitalization into an engine of equitable and sustainable development. For example, the Guide emphasizes the need for end uses that provide affordable housing opportunities and local hiring rather than solely focusing on those that would increase property tax revenue. 

Why Corridor Projects?


In the context of decades of environmental racism as well as the ebb and flow of federal support for environmental justice principles, Corridor Projects offer a way for communities to take matters into their own hands. Traditional methods of addressing the legacy of environmental racism are ad hoc, with individual government agencies and non-profits pursuing their own solutions, often without proper coordination and sometimes without adequate community participation. As a DIY model, Corridor Projects help to ensure that community members occupy key decision-making roles, where they are able to address the many interconnected needs of their neighborhood. 

Corridor Projects aim to catalyze development by focusing infrastructure spending in a specific geographical area but across different projects, usually along a transportation corridor. By this definition, corridor revitalization projects are not new and have been undertaken by both private companies and public authorities. In their most basic form, Corridor Projects come from the idea that revitalization works best when it takes into account local circumstances, is responsive to community needs, and layers projects on top of each other to create a whole that is more than the sum of its parts.

Applied to brownfields and blight in particular, a Corridor Project model can allow the remediation of scattered sites that may be too small to attract redevelopment on their own. When multiple sites with varying levels of perceived and actual contamination are tied together, those with a lesser need for remediation can leverage those with a greater need. The end result is more redevelopment over a large area, which aids the former as well as the latter. Improving an entire area creates a ripple effect in the form of increased prosperity, which contributes to an increased tax base and community resilience. 

Planning on an area-wide level also helps to attract capital from private investors and reduce the stigma that individual brownfield sites may suffer from. Corridor Projects therefore allow a community to achieve the goals of many groups at the same time. Additionally, the projects should be inherently community-driven and community-based. Since many parcels are usually revitalized or redeveloped at one time, the projects inherently span the breadth of a community. 

Despite the benefits of Corridor Projects, there was little federal support for the application of this methodology for the revitalization of brownfields until the advent of the Area-Wide Planning Grant Program. The program was initiated in 2010 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the aim of addressing local brownfields challenges, especially those which are clustered together and often connected by infrastructure in underserved and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. These clusters of brownfields serve to limit the “economic, environmental and social prosperity of their surroundings.” Therefore, the Area-Wide Planning Grants offered assistance to communities trying to begin the process of revitalizing these clusters. A broad range of entities were eligible including local governments, regional councils, redevelopment agencies, nonprofit groups, institutions of higher education, and community coalitions.

Though the process of applying for the grants was complex and required the applicant to have completed a fair amount of groundwork, these grants were designed to catalyze the beginning of the revitalization projects. Communities went into the grant application process with a number of potential sites, including one site to serve as a focal point, as well as a basic understanding of the contours and circumstances of the corridor they sought to redevelop. At the end of the Area Wide Planning process, communities would have a detailed plan that provided direction and guidance for future brownfields cleanup and redevelopment. The final version, submitted to the EPA to fulfill the conditions of the grant, included information on community priorities, existing environmental conditions, necessary infrastructure improvements, specific strategies for brownfields improvement, and how existing resources can be leveraged to assist in remediation.

Until the program’s cancellation in 2017, the EPA Area-Wide Planning Grant funded approximately 20 projects during every two-year cycle. Funding provided through the grants could be used to support a number of different planning research activities, depending on the circumstances of the community and the amount of planning work already taken place. The applicants approached the grant process with a site and corridor in mind, but the money that the EPA provided could be used to define the project area in more detail.

Funds were also used to build the capacity of the community and to engage community stakeholders by disseminating information and collecting input to shape the final plan. Grants were used for a variety of social research projects on the community in question to supplement knowledge gained from direct community engagement.

Though EPA’s Area-Wide Planning Grant program no longer exists, during its lifetime, it clearly demonstrated the utility of the Corridor Project model to guide community-led redevelopment. In the absence of a federal funding model, communities can nevertheless take the lessons learned through previous Corridor Projects to guide redevelopment in their own neighborhoods. This guide is intended to provide practical advice for community leaders, redevelopment planners, as well as others seeking to engage in community-led redevelopment.

How to Use This Guide

The guide is designed with communities in mind as the primary audience and aims to empower them to shape their surroundings. Professionals, such as city planners and government officials, can certainly benefit from much of the information in this guide, but it proceeds from an assumption that the reader may be a layperson with little to no prior technical knowledge of neighborhood planning or cleaning up environmentally-impaired properties. 

Readers coming to the topics covered in this guide can certainly read this guide linearly, from the beginning to the end. However, the guide is designed to be modular, with each of the chapters and subsections distinct from each other so they can be read in isolation if a reader needs guidance or resources only on a particular topic. For instance, many community groups are already experts in managing stakeholders (Chapter 2) but may need more information about the legal challenges of brownfields (Chapter 5), or the sources of funding for their project (Chapter 6). 

Lastly, the reason this guide lives online, rather than being distributed in pdf format or via a published book, is that it is meant to be a living document. The team will be working continuously to improve both the content of the site as well as the user experience. To that end, we welcome suggestions and ideas, both of topics to cover as well as ways to make this site more accessible and useful for grassroots groups. Please feel free to contact us at bell@eli.org.

Chapter Roadmap

Environmental Justice History

Chapter Roadmap


The chapters that follow will guide readers through the process of scoping, designing, and completing their own Corridor Project.

Chapter 2 Stakeholders

Chapter 2 will help you understand how to identify the stakeholders necessary for a successful Corridor Project and how to work with stakeholders from various sectors. It will also cover methods for resolving conflict between stakeholders and ways to think about facilitation and community-driven planning that focus on establishing relationships and seeking long-term mutual objectives.

Chapter 3 Mapping the Area

Chapter 3 will demonstrate the utility of mapping as a method of visualizing the project corridor. It will introduce a step-by-step method of identifying the project area and sites of interest as well as some tools to help visualize how they relate to one another. Mapping these locations is crucial for scoping out the goals of the planning process. 

Chapter 4 End Uses

Chapter 4 will discuss the importance of thinking about end uses as communities conduct area-wide planning efforts. In addition, this chapter provides examples and summaries of a variety of end uses. The goal of this section is to help communities decide which end uses to incorporate into their area-wide plans.

The one pagers are designed to give more detailed examples of common end uses. When communities have a vision of their end goals for area-wide planning from the beginning, the chances that a community’s efforts will be effective and impactful increase dramatically.

Chapter 5 Brownfields

Chapter 5 will deal with appropriate measures when confronting brownfields as part of your community revitalization project. Brownfields are “abandoned, idled, or under-used industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.” Common examples are dry cleaning sites, landfills, and auto mechanic shops. These brownfield sites must be remediated or restored to their original (pre-contamination) condition by reversing or stopping environmental damage.

Chapter 6 Funding

Chapter 6 will outline one of the most important aspects of any Corridor Project, obtaining the necessary funds. This chapter will explain different opportunities available to communities to raise these funds. While communities are often able to raise small amounts of capital from crowdfunding, successful Corridor Projects almost always require outside financing due to the cost.

Chapter 7 Case Studies  

Chapter 7 will, through the use of case studies, explore Corridor Projects that have already been completed. These case studies, which will be expanded upon and added to over time, will showcase the variety in form and function of Corridor Projects. Communities planning their own Corridor Projects will be able to derive lessons learned from the experiences of others as well as see examples of what others did when they encountered similar challenges. 

Chapter 8 Resources

Chapter 8 is a repository for sources referenced throughout the chapters as well as an extended bibliography for further reading. In addition, this chapter will also include resources such as sample contracts and provide examples of grant applications.

A Brief History of the Environmental Justice Movement


Environmental Justice is a separate and distinct movement from the Environmentalist movement of the 20th century. In 1982, local and national activists came together in Warren County, North Carolina to protest the siting of a polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) waste facility in a predominantly African American, rural community. As a result of the protest, over five hundred individuals were arrested, including Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis and Walter Fauntroy. The Warren County protest shed a light on the environmental hazards faced by poor citizens and people of color across the nation and sparked a massive coalition-building effort that focused on uniting communities targeted by industry as locations for environmental threats (e.g., production and disposal of toxic waste, communities built in flood zones, and those that suffered high rates of environmental illness).

In 1987, Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis and the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice published Toxic Wastes and Race, a foundational document for environmental justice which discussed the history of environmental racism and its acute effects on racial minorities. The report establishes a strong correlation between where racial minorities live and commercial hazardous waste facilities, positing that race, rather than income level, is the most significant variable when determining exposure to environmental hazards.

In 1992, the EPA came under fire after a report suggested that EPA enforcement under various federal statutes and cleanup under the Superfund law was inequitable by race and, to a less pronounced degree, income. As a response to this report as well as activism from proponents of environmental justice, the EPA established the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), and in 1994, President Clinton signed an executive order that mandated federal agencies to apply the “Environmental Justice Principles” developed by the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit.

Despite encouraging efforts at the federal level in the 90s, the W. Bush administration ushered in an age of environmental deregulation, regulatory leniency, and negligence towards minority and low-income populations. Worst still, the administration revised the definition of Environmental Justice to focus on “fairness to all races” rather than specifically targeting overburdened minority communities. The financial recession of the early 2000s made it increasingly difficult to pursue environmental justice goals as the political pressure to support large businesses grew. 

Under the Obama administration, the EPA was able to return to some of their previous environmental justice principles. For example, the Obama EPA re-defined “fair treatment” in a way that honored the distributive justice principles of early environmental justice advocates. Additionally, the Agency clarified the need to consider Environmental Justice in both the development and implementation of their regulatory actions. 

Following the election of Donald J. Trump, there was a significant reversal of the EPA’s and other federal agencies' stance on environmental justice. Under Trump’s leadership, the US announced its intent to abandon the Paris Climate agreement and made significant investments in fossil fuels. At almost every opportunity the Trump administration took steps directly antithetical to the concerns of environmental justice advocates.

With the election of Joe Biden in the fall of 2020, there has been a growing hope for the federal advancement of environmental justice goals. On his first day in office, Biden issued the 2021 Executive Order on Public health and the Environment and Executive Order tackling Climate Change Home and Abroad. He also signed an executive order establishing the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC), which is charged with advising the federal government on the Environmental Justice implications of government-wide federal policy. In addition to these executive orders, the president’s agency appointments have reaffirmed a commitment to remedying the harms caused by prolonged environmental racism.