Policy recommendations for brownfield regeneration in the Baltic Sea Region
As an essential path toward more integrated, resilient and sustainable urban development, brownfield regeneration (redeveloping underutilized areas of a city) has the potential to both limit the urban sprawl and promote investment to restore the land that has been contaminated by industrial activity. During the Baltic Urban Lab project, partners from Sweden (Norrköping), Finland (Turku), Estonia (Tallinn) and Latvia (Riga) identified planning challenges in brownfield regeneration and developed solutions for tackling these challenges through early and broad-scale stakeholder involvement.
Brownfield regeneration can be seen as increasingly benefitial for urban development in many aspects (ecological, economic and social benefits) - yet common challenges exist that could make brownfield regeneration projects unsuccessful. A few examples of the difficulties faced by the cities in Baltic Urban Lab project:
- fragmented land ownership resulting in large numbers of stakeholder groups and a lack of common development vision;
- Technological, geological, environmental and legal challenges concerning the remediation processes of the contaminated land resulting in confusion in financial responsibility and expectations;
- Cultural heritage protection can also limit how regeneration could be carried out.
As a result, based on these challenges and experiences of the partner cities in planning for brownfield regeneration, six key recommendations were developed for more efficient and inclusive brownfield redevelopment processes in the Baltic Sea Region that are based on support for public-private-people partnerships (4P approach) at local, national and cross-border levels.
- The 4P approach (public-private-people partnership) emphasises the need to develop the brownfield areas in cooperation with a diversity of stakeholders right from the beginning of the planning process and also emphasises the fact that different stakeholder groups are best engaged using different methods of participation. This can be key to improve commitment, trust and collective understanding in brownfield regeneration projects.
- More equitable planning processes can be enabled by using digital tools for citizen engagement to gather knowledge and support collaboration with target groups that are not typically a part of political discussions. They allow for an ability to synthesise large amounts of input. Visualisation tools, including maps, are valuable communication tools to make the planning process more understandable for non-professionals.
- Transparency in the engagement process is what matters most, even though the consensus might not always be reached. Local planners need to communicate the planning process in a clear way, including how the stakeholder input will be gathered, assessed and used in decision-making processes.Likewise, the results should be communicated in clear, easy-to-understand language.
- Brownfield sites are often challenged by the high cost, and high cost uncertainty, of remediating the soil due to contamination from previous uses. The remediation process, therefore ,needs to be better integrated into the planning process from the beginning. Direct communication about the process should be maintained between the various public-sector departments involved, private stakeholders and local citizens.
- National level finance for soil remediation is of great importance for local brownfield development. National agencies should also promote and support cooperation between local actors with different responsibilities and promote local cross-sectoral cooperation in urban development. National guidance should be developed in all countries to clarify the potential for brownfield regeneration, including potential funding opportunties.
- European funding and support should be provided for cross-border cooperation in the field of urban planning. This encourages the cities to exchange and learn from from each other as well as to test and experiment new, more open and inclusive planning methods and practices.
Besides the key recommendations, Baltic Urban Lab project has developed a guidebook for urban planners and other experts interested to learn more how to develop brownfield areas in cooperation with citizens, NGOs, land-owners, developers and other stakeholders.
Please find below the link to the Guide in English, Latvian, Estonian, Finnish and Swedish as well as accompanying promotional leaflets.
Text and image: Kristiina Paju