Regeneration, Remediation and Restoration by Davon Bree

Whilst working on a recent project at terra firma regenerating a former landfill site with a leisure development had me thinking about the role of Landscape Architects in such schemes, the processes involved and the challenges that require overcoming in these ambitious, yet increasingly common developments.

Former landfill and industrial sites are sometimes contaminated by former uses but how do we rid the soils of those contaminants and can the soils be washed/reused? What types of schemes can be built on the site once it is considered safe to do so? How can we design around restrictive measures in place on such sites?

Since the success in 2012 of the former contaminated Lee Valley site now known as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the numbers of brownfield regeneration projects appear to have increased; especially with highly contested Greenfield sites; but this large scale headline development was not without its problems and critics regarding contamination.

The Forestry Commission and Environment Agency produced numerous reports pre and post games showing the concerns with clearing the East London site; “Contaminants of most concern included heavy metals in the form of lead, arsenic and chromium as well as organics (such as fuel oil, tar and bitumen), ammonia and localized chlorinated hydrocarbons”. (Forestry Research ‘Benefits of Green Infrastructure – Regeneration of previously developed land’).

The Environment Agency worked with the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), the London Development Agency and other partners on the site helping decontaminate 2m tonnes of soil so it could be reused.

However amongst the controversies, complexities and difficulties; brownfield sites attract many consultants from across the entire spectrum of the built environment industry from numerous engineers, environmental specialists to of course Landscape Architects.

But where do Landscape Architects fit in amongst the mix of consultants? How can our expertise help in creating a successful, safe development?

A few points to consider when designing for such sites may include;

  • Can the landscape design reduce the negative visual impacts that commonly plague brownfield sites? (such as existing buildings or remnants from its past uses)
  • Rather than removing those negative visual impacts can they be turned into positive ones to compliment the design or be designed around? (Such as Gas Works Park in Seattle or The High Line in New York)
  • Can the design help improve existing ecology/plant restoration and plant and tree survival rates?
  • Increase biodiversity and habitats
  • Consider the possible need of venting gasses from below the surface on contaminated sites and how this may impact the design and aesthetic
  • Specific tree and plant species selection alongside careful consideration of location within the site for maximum species survival rate
  • If water is present on the site, how may this impact on any spreading of contaminants and can this be controlled?
  • The intended use of the site and how this may impact in future generations

Some of the points are more obvious than others however they all impact on the design and restoration processes and future success of any brownfield site.

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