What is a brownfield? According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it is a property that the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. It is estimated that there are more than 450,000 brownfields in the U.S., and Muncie has more than 30 brownfields. Once it was considered the remnants of the community’s former industrial heyday and scars through the community, meanwhile, beginning in the early 2000s, developers and communities slowly began to view brownfields as an opportunity. Converting these heavily contaminated former industrial sites into solar installation is considered one of the most cost-effective and sustainable options for the surrounding community.

In 2021, the City of Muncie purchased the 53-acre main parcel of RACER Trust’s former General Motors (GM) property located at 1200 W. 8th St., one of the largest brownfield sites in Muncie. The city intends to build a solar field on the property with up to 24.6 million kWh of generating capacity which can provide electricity for more than 2,300 typical US households annually. This project is still in the planning stage and many things are still undecided and remain on the table including negotiating the scale of phase 1 installation with the local utility company, community hearing, and many others, but it is an unarguably sustainable option for Muncie.

Against this backdrop, in Spring 2022, PLAN 203 Regional Planning and Design Studio is investigating the smart city options for the solar installation at the former GM site to determine the best uses for the site that benefit Muncie financially and sustainably. Partnering with the office of the Mayor, City of Muncie, PLAN203 studio is actively exploring experimental smart city options for the site. As the smart city model integrates technology, people, and institutions, students are actively learning that the smart city is not just an adoption of advanced IT technology but a collaborative planning strategy and process to build a stronger, livable, and sustainable community.

By Sanglim Yoo
Assistant Professor of Urban Planning