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Faculty of Community Services

Brownfields redevelopment: transforming old industrial sites into vibrant urban communities

chris de sousa

Christopher De Sousa, Urban and Regional Planning


Christopher De Sousa’s research focuses on making cities better places to work, live and play through sustainable brownfields redevelopment. For a decade at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he was a research collaborator involved in transforming a large derelict industrial district in central Milwaukee into an award-winning example of urban revitalization and redevelopment.

“The Menomonee Valley project created sustainable, living-wage jobs for people in the community and was one of the most successful brownfields reindustrialization projects in the U.S.,” says De Sousa, director of and professor in the School of Urban and Regional Planning.

Since returning to Toronto and joining Ryerson in 2011, De Sousa has been studying brownfields redevelopment trends in Ontario with the goal of improving Canadian urban environments. “The redevelopment of brownfields offers communities a triple benefit in terms of remediating pollution, removing neighbourhood blight, and providing new development and employment. Rebuilding, cleaning up and reusing urban spaces produces a better result than building in undeveloped areas,” he says.

In a 2015 study funded by Ryerson’s Centre for Urban Research and Land Development, De Sousa interviewed private sector stakeholders, identified key barriers and proposed facilitation strategies to foster further brownfields redevelop-ment in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).

His research tracked more than four thousand cleanup and redevelopment projects in Ontario between 2004 and 2014. In the city of Toronto alone, 995 brownfields projects between 2004 and 2011 repurposed over 2,867 acres of land. “The vibrancy of Toronto has largely been built on the city’s industrial legacy. These projects are valued at $37.1 billion in property assessment and resulted in 83,000 new residential units. If the objective is to put growth back in the community, that’s a lot of people and a lot of tax revenue,” he says.

The study results also suggest that the “easy” brownfields projects in strong GTHA markets have been redeveloped, so continued success in primary and secondary markets will require a streamlining of the regulatory process and more collaboration between stakeholders to unlock both private and public returns in the future.

De Sousa is now doing a larger, three-year study, funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada grant, that will examine the scale and character of brownfields remediation and redevelopment projects in Toronto, Waterloo and Kingston, and the role of government intervention. “This research will give public and private stakeholders a better sense of the value of what’s been happening and how to overcome the obstacles to making more of it happen,” he says.