Similar mindsets needed for long distance running and brownfield redevelopment

by Jeff Hawkins
May 2, 2014

Kalamazoo Marathon logo

In light of the upcoming Kalamazoo Marathon, I would like to share some of my recent thoughts on the similarity between Brownfield Redevelopment and the mindset of long distance runners.

When I'm not in the office, one of my greatest joys is going for a long run to unwind from the day. My travels around the state enable me to run in many of the communities Envirologic serves. While running I often pass vacant lots and deteriorating buildings that possess an abundance of opportunity and are ripe for redevelopment.

The last two years I ran the 13.1 miles of the Borgess Half Marathon in Kalamazoo. This year I have decided to volunteer as a course monitor in lieu of running (Hopefully, I can refrain from jumping into the race). When I was running the lengthy race, I began to ponder some of the parallels between long distance running and Brownfield Redevelopment. It may seem like a bit of a stretch, but the fierce persistence required of runners is equally important for those who wish to revitalize their community.

Plan for the Race

Like organizers of a large community race, redevelopers must cultivate a shared vision or plan, enlist the support of community partners, and conduct extensive outreach. After all, large-scale community races require a coalition of resources and support-from sponsors to an army of volunteers and spectators.

Transforming a Brownfield site into a community asset is complicated and may take years to complete. Due to the resource commitment from a community and its leaders, it is imperative to elicit the input and support of stakeholders. In order to successfully transform a Brownfield site, there's a vast array of players usually involved; state environmental and economic development agencies, community based organizations, regulators, concerned citizens, consultants, legal experts, developers, lenders, and investors.

Some of the best runners develop a personalized schedule to build up the necessary strength prior to a race. They prepare for weeks or months, aiming to improve their pace and endurance. Educating yourself in the latest running technology, stretching techniques and eating habits, etc. can make a difference in enjoying your race and staying pain-free. Through the years, we have learned that educational outreach is often one of the most overlooked steps in the redevelopment process. It is vitally important to communicate early and often the economic, health, safety, and environmental benefits to the community. By educating the community, there are less surprises and more buy-in.

Brownfield Redevelopment also requires a lot of foresight, careful planning, patience and the ability to map out a timeline and resources necessary to complete a project. The planning process also requires a steady commitment from leaders to endure possible challenges and setbacks. You never know when you will pull a hammy or twist an ankle in one of our infamous potholes!

The Benefits of Running

One of the outcomes of training for a race is overall improved health. Have you ever noticed how exercise seems to improve everything from your overall mood and energy levels to the healthy glow of your skin? Running also offers a renewed level of confidence. This also holds true for community revitalization, which often provides health, safety and environmental benefits by eliminating hazards.

A transformed Brownfield site often translates into renewed pride in a neighborhood and improved quality of life. In the long run these improvements spur economic investment, create jobs, raise property values, and eliminate blighted eyesores.

Find a Stride That Works

Runners and those who set out to conduct community revitalization have to be ready for the long haul and set realistic expectations. Push too hard at the beginning and you'll lose steam. Run too slow and you will find it hard to keep up with the competition. Much like running, you have to find the right stride to make it to the finish line.

The most successful communities are well aware of their available resources and limitations. In reality there is no "cookie cutter" process to successfully tackle a project. Each community is different whether the differences are population, unique project challenges, available expertise, financial tools, staff support, or other demands or priorities.

For me, running a half marathon wasn't about being first across the finish line; it was about completing the race and achieving a personal goal. It was also about being part of a broader community experience. Everyone cheers you on regardless of your standing. Brownfield Redevelopment can also enjoy that unified, euphoric experience when you get everyone running in the same direction.

I have found in my 30 years of experience in the field that the most successful communities seem to emulate the qualities of successful long distance runners. They understand the importance of planning, patience, persistence, community engagement, self-awareness and a view of the finish line.

I applaud the commitment shown by runners and Brownfield Redevelopment partners. Keep up the good work!

To those of you running the Kalamazoo Marathon on Sunday, find your stride, be safe, have fun and don't forget to take a look around as you race. Harness the energy of the community.

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