GUEST POST: Barry Hersh on Recent Flurry of Brownfield Policy Action and New Book
Brownfield trailblazer Barry Hersh shares his thoughts on enacted and pending current federal legislation impact on brownfield redevelopment.
This guest post was provided by Barry Hersh, Clinical Associate Professor, NYU SPS Schack Institute of Real Estate whose new book is, “Urban Redevelopment: A North American Reader”, published by Routledge and featuring a forward from Charlie Bartsch (reviewed below). Professor Hersh will be moderating a panel on New Opportunities in Brownfield Urban Redevelopment on Thursday Feb 22nd. The event will be held at the Rosenthal Pavillion (10th floor) of NYU Kimmel Hall, Washington Square with registration starting at 8:30AM and the panel from 9:00 - 11:00AM. There is no charge, but please register here.
As the “Brownfields Enhancement, Economic Redevelopment, and Reauthorization Act of 2017” brownfields legislation moves with broad bipartisan support from the House of Representatives to the Senate, the first reaction is that renewing the program, and actually providing for greater funding for brownfields, is good news – and it is. And there are several specific aspects of the proposed legislation worth discussing. The program maintains most aspects of the current EPA brownfields program, providing steady funding for the assessment and other grant programs and even allowing for larger multi-purposed grants for complex projects, significant for such projects that need greater federal support. Other key provisions, also in the proposed Senate version, allow nonprofits to apply directly federal brownfield support (now flow through state or municipality) and additional funding for smaller, rural, distressed and tribal communities.
The proposed legislation responds to the brownfield program’s strongest allies, mayors including members of Congress who were mayors, of both parties, and from across the nation; especially a provision that allows some recovery of administrative costs. In the Senate version there is a provision for brownfields in flood zones, in the House bill, a provision that supports renewable energy use of brownfields; both recognize the relationship of brownfields to sustainability and resilience more generally.
Separately, the now official 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs law retains but modifies the tax credit programs for historic properties (now only the more widely used 20% program), low income housing and the use of private activity bonds, which will impact the efficacy of these programs often utilized in brownfield redevelopment. New Market Tax Credits, a complicated program that have has been beneficially used, was retained, but only the next two annual cycles are funded. The new BEAT (Base-Erosion and Anti-Abuse) provision may negatively impact tax credit use, while the new Opportunity Zone provision may encourage investment of capital gains into low income communities.
In my view one key element to successful brownfield redevelopment is strong and professional environmental regulation; in part so that a developer can sleep at night knowing the remediation was done properly; regulators who provide strong, clear guidance – and cuts in EPA may actually have some negative impact on development.
The very recent news is that the small EPA area-wide program, targeting communities with multiple brownfield sites and often low income and minority neighborhoods, may be eliminated. Also recently, Groundworks USA, a non-profit community advocacy organization, released a positive study of the area-wide program. In 2016 another non-profit (New Partners for Community Revitalization now an affiliate of Center for Creative Land Recycling) supported a study done by a NYU Wagner graduate planning program students of the New York State Brownfield Opportunity Area program, a forerunner of the federal area-wide program. I was part of the “client” board. Both studies found significant positive impacts, measured largely by economic, environmental and community effects, from area-wide brownfield planning projects.
At least one successful study area, the South Bronx, was included in both studies. However, there has always been concern that area-wide programs can be seen as a form of community development, and should such a program be within an environmental agency and utilize scarce environmental resources? NYS BOA was moved from a joint program with Department of Environmental Conservation to the state planning office and federal area-wide planning has been tied to joint EPA-DOT- HUD smart growth agreement.
The multi-faceted nature of urban redevelopment including brownfields, providing environmental, economic, and community benefits is a great strength especially in the legislative process. It is important that the highly measurable and desirable economic and real estate benefits do not overwhelm the harder to measure environmental benefits as well as community benefits seen as more political.
Barry Hersh is a Clinical Associate Professor at the NYU SPS Schack Institute of Real Estate.
Professor Hersh’s new book, entitled “Urban Redevelopment: A North American Reader” is available now. It provides an excellent primer to the modern real estate redevelopment market in North America, which novices and experts will enjoy in equal measure. It also features a forward from brownfield legend Charlie Bartsch.
Professor Hersh will be moderating a panel on New Opportunities in Brownfield Urban Redevelopment on Thursday Feb 22nd. The event will be held at the Rosenthal Pavillion (10th floor) of NYU Kimmel Hall, Washington Square with registration starting at 8:30AM and the panel from 9:00 - 11:00AM. There is no charge, but please register here.
Below is a brief review of Professor Hersh’s new book:
Urban Redevelopment: A North American Reader is an illuminating primer that sheds light on the practice of real estate redevelopment by reviewing its history and examining its failures and successes. It considers why ideas that seemed to work in specific circumstances do not translate to success in others.
Mr. Hersh’s book aims to provide guidance to academics, practitioners and professionals on how, when, where and why, specific approaches worked and when they didn’t. While one has to deal with each case specifically, it is the interactions that are key. The contributors offer insight into how urban design affects behavior, how finance drives architectural choices, how social equity interacts with economic development, how demographic diversity drives cities’ growth, how politics determine land use decisions, how management deals with market choices, and how there are multiple influences and impacts of every decision.
The book moves from the history of urban redevelopment, The City Beautiful movement, grand concourses and plazas, through urban renewal, superblocks and downtown pedestrian malls to today’s placemaking: transit-oriented design, street quieting, new urbanism, publicly accessible, softer, waterfront design, funky small urban spaces and public-private megaprojects. This history also moves from grand masters such as Baron Haussmann and Robert Moses through community participation, to stakeholder involvement to creative local leadership. The increased importance of sustainability, high-energy performance, resilience and both pre- and post-catastrophe planning are also discussed in detail.
Cities are acts of man, not nature; every street and building represents decisions made by people. Many of today’s best recognized urban theorists look for great forces; economic trends, technological shifts, political movements and try to analyze how they impact cities. One does not have to be a subscriber to the "great man" theory of history to see that in urban redevelopment, successful project champions use or sometimes overcome overall trends, using the tools and resources available to rebuild their community.
This book is about how these projects are brought together, each somewhat differently, by the people who make them happen.
LEFT: Barry holding up his own Brownfield of Dreams t-shirt. RIGHT: Barry and Dan discussing his new book.
GUEST POST: Bartsch on Final Tax Bill Impact to Brownfield Financing (by Charlie Bartsch)