Brownfields are abandoned, vacant, derelict or underutilized commercial and industrial properties where past actions have resulted in actual or perceived contamination and where there is an active potential for redevelopment.

For an introduction to the basics of brownfield redevelopment, please select one of the following topic areas:

Brownfields can be defined as "abandoned, vacant, derelict or underutilized commercial or industrial properties where past actions have resulted in actual or perceived contamination and where there is an active potential for redevelopment." (National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy) 

British Columbia has an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 brownfield sites, which are often in or near communities. Examples can include a former gas station and other petroleum facilities, dry cleaning operations, and closed industrial facilities of all scales such as factories, foundries/smelters, maintenance facilities and rail yards.

Left as they are, these sites are of little economic value and can pose human health and environmental risks. Cleaning up and redeveloping these sites can generate significant economic, social and environmental benefits, leading to more sustainable communities. 

Vancouver's Pacific Place and Victoria's Dockside Green are examples of high-profile, successful brownfield developments. But it is smaller communities, where the benefits are less obvious, that represent the greatest challenges and opportunities for brownfield redevelopment in the province.

Land development in British Columbia is physically constrained by geography, resulting in only about six percent of the province being available for land development. 
Continued population pressures, rising real long term real estate values and public calls for sustainability all point to the importance of re-using old industrial and commercial lands.

Brownfields are often visual eyesores that lower property values, provide minimal tax revenues, pose health risks to residents, and impact the growth of communities. Left alone, they are of little economic and social value to a community and may leave a legacy of environmental contamination.

Brownfield redevelopment can provide many social, environmental and economic (or, triple-bottom-line) benefits:

  • Economic development, with urban redevelopment in large population centres, and job creation;
  • Enhanced quality of life through neighbourhood revitalization;
  • Reduced urban sprawl pressures on Greenfield sites around a community;
  • Farmland (ALR, local food supply) and green space preservation;
  • Re-use of infrastructures such as roads and utilities;
  • Increased tax base from lands that would otherwise sit vacant; and
  • Reduced risks to environmental and human health and safety through cleanup and removal of site hazards.

Although brownfield sites are often located in prime real estate areas such as near waterfronts or in historical city centres, there are a number of reasons why many brownfields in British Columbia have not been redeveloped.

Some of the challenges include:

  • Unclear liability/ownership for potential environmental contamination;
  • Additional costs of environmental assessment, demolition, and clean up;
  • Increased time and complexity often required for environmental and planning approvals as compared to greenfield development;
  • Limited site information, and stakeholder knowledge and capacity regarding brownfields and brownfield redevelopment; and,
  • Prevailing market conditions and obtaining project financing.

The trend towards a more urban society will continue in the years ahead. That means more pressure on municipal infrastructures, such as transportation, water, electricity, and other amenities to serve a growing population. 

Brownfield redevelopment offers a key opportunity to create sustainable, livable communities in which residential and business interests can thrive.

Successful projects demonstrate that the benefits of brownfield redevelopment extend to the surrounding community.

Getting the most from these benefits will require collaboration across all levels of government, the community, developers and support professionals.

Tackling the relevant barriers to redeveloping brownfield sites will provide economic, environmental and social benefits, as well as business opportunities for the development and other support sectors.

We encourage you to look at your community's brownfields in a new way and to work with both the public and private sectors to make brownfields an important foundation for sustainable communities.