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The Rustbelt and the Revitalization of Detroit: A Commentary and Criticism of Michigan Brownfield Legislation

November 2016

Emily Green


Michigan, like many states, has been using Brownfield credits since the late 1970s. This study examines the idea that Brownfields were intended to benefit the environment, via extensive rebuilding and cleaning up of waste. In modern practice, however, brownfields in Detroit have served as mechanisms to increase the tax base and economic growth of an area. These mechanisms have consequences, which the author describes as having inadequate terminology for what a Brownfield is, and the amount variation in what brownfields, on paper, are said to be. Additionally, in comparison to other states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, the author argues that the Brownfield Redevelopment Financing Act needs to be decentralized to afford more control at the local level to identify and assess the local community’s needs and potential brownfield sites. Brownfield redevelopment is essential to rebuilding the tax base in former rustbelt urban areas, but they must be implemented and assessed by local governments in partnership with the community.

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Policy Implications

The Brownfield Redevelopment Financing Act of 1996 has been examined as needing reform. This reform has mostly been pushed by developers in Detroit, like Dan Gilbert, and backed by pro-business entities. In looking at how to reform brownfield redevelopment in Michigan, local government could stand to have more autonomy and responsibility in identifying and assessing redevelopment sites, and in at a position to seek input from the community it would affect.

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