Published first on the Progress News, January 31, 2022

Guest Column by Freshwater Biologist Lisa McKenzie

Redevelopment – the action or process of developing something again or differently. When I first ventured into redevelopment work as an environmental biologist nearly a year ago, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It was unlike anything I had ever done before, and quite frankly, seemed counterintuitive to everything I believed in. My academic studies and previous work centered around ecosystem restoration – the process of reversing the degradation of ecosystems to regain their ecological functionality. For me, it was always about the environment. The conservation and sustainable use of the incredible biodiversity we are fortunate to share this planet with. Human benefit or gain, though, of course, significant, was never my main objective or priority. So ‘redevelopment’? As a biologist? The word alone scared me. What did this mean? Would I have to sacrifice my beliefs for a paycheck? Images of demolitions and heavy machinery and sprawling urban centers with towering apartment buildings ran rampant through my mind as I struggled to reconcile the notion that redevelopment and ecosystem restoration were not mutually exclusive of one another… but how?

By doing things differently. I’m a big believer in the notion – when you know better, do better. And that’s exactly what we’re doing here, in your backyard. Anyone who has read Selina’s columns undoubtedly knows about the synergistic coalition we’ve created in NW PA through the ORA and the shared common goals of our growth cluster – redevelopment WITH sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, and materials reuse. Ideas that incorporate human progress AND environmental conservation and sustainability. Things like redeveloping a former pollution-laden brownfield into a shared community space powered by vertical wind turbines instead of fossil fuels; or using agricultural products like industrial hemp (which has untold positive environmental impacts) to create hemp-fiber wood flooring and insulation for new homes instead of traditional materials; or converting a former landfill to a solar farm, complete with (carbon-friendly) grazing sheep, native flowering pollinator plants and honeybees. It’s different, and it’s progress. For us, and the ecosystem.

Redevelopment means so much more to me now than it ever did. It’s a way of doing things differently, of doing things better. Of learning from past mistakes and committing to a brighter future (pun intended – hello solar!). I learned so much in the past year, not only about myself, but about a word I clearly knew nothing about. From a scientific perspective, I learned redevelopment doesn’t have to mean sacrificing the environment at the expense of human growth; in fact, it’s quite the opposite when ecologically responsible solutions are enacted in a way that benefits all. I believe we all have a responsibility to do our part in making the world a better place in whatever way we can, and I’m ever grateful for this opportunity to do mine. When you know better, do better.

Cover photo by Daniel Klein on Unsplash