Assessing the Public Participation Process for Brownfield Revitalization Projects
De Vellis, Sonya
MetadataShow full item record
The public participation process is a vital and necessary part of planning that provides citizens with the opportunity to express their concerns and suggestions about projects that affect the overall well-being of their community. One contemporary planning issue is brownfield revitalization, which is the repurposing of former and abandoned industrial sites into residential, commercial or recreational sites. Brownfield revitalization is a timely and relevant matter in Ontario due to a) their locations, which are often within urban centres and are close to existing infrastructure, which reduces the need to develop on greenfield lands, and b) legislation, such as Places to Grow and various growth plans that require cities to meet intensification targets while preserving greenfield land, thus making brownfield revitalization an attractive option. In addition to their anticipated benefits, brownfield revitalization is a complex matter, as it invovles environmental contamination, heritage preservation, investment and financing challenges, and undesirable surroundings. For these reasons, it is an engaging and controversial focus in public participation. There is strong evidence in the literature that brownfield revitalization consultations often address the unique environmental, historical and demographic issues that are associated with these sites. Some strategies employed at the consultation sessions include informal meetings, consultations with experts in the sector, and legal agreements between community groups and developers to ensure projects are beneficial to the community. The intent of this thesis is to discover if the public participation sessions for brownfield projects in Ontario differ from participation sessions involving other planning projects. This research includes reviewing engagement, communication and retention strategies, and any exist specific policies or guidelines that are used when planning for the public participation process. Five site-specific and two municipal case studies were selected as a focus in this thesis. All case studies are affiliated with brownfield revitalization projects throughout Ontario. Data collection for this thesis involved: 16 semi-structured interviews with 13 individuals which included planners, public consultation facilitators or representatives of community groups who either organized or participated in public participation sessions involving brownfield sites, and content analysis of transcribed consultation sessions, survey responses, anecdotal information from participants, and document or media analysis. The data was then coded, and relevant themes were selected in order to answer the research questions. The overall findings in this thesis revealed that there are few differences between public participation process for projects involving brownfield revitalization sites and other planning projects. The most common strategies that were used in the participation sessions in these case studies (such as targeted invitations to special interest groups, the usage of social media, and liaisons with community “champions”) are also common in standard public participation processes. Policies and legislation offer guidelines for conducting efficient participation sessions, and addressing issues such as financing and environmental concerns, but do not advise how to present this information or engage people. Issues that commonly arose in the literature, such as contamination concerns and demographic differences, did not appear to have the same presence in the Ontario subtext. Recommendations for this thesis include identifying the key stakeholders in each brownfield revitalization project, and establishing trust between citizens that live near brownfield revitalization sites and planners. The use of community benefit agreements can also create an efficient and equitable participation process. These recommendations are useful as brownfield revitalization is a common and beneficial strategy for achieving sustainability in Ontario and enhancing the societal, environmental and financial vitality of a community.