VIDEO: Barlow graduate gives TED talk on brownfield regeneration

Joel Barlow High School graduate Olivia Greenspan recently gave a 12-minute TEDx talk at the Lincoln School in Brookline, Mass.
Joel Barlow High School graduate Olivia Greenspan recently gave a 12-minute TEDx talk at the Lincoln School in Brookline, Mass.

When Joel Barlow High School graduate Olivia Greenspan was young, she used to watch TED talks online all the time. Little did she know she would one day be giving such a talk herself.

Greenspan, 20, now a junior at Fordham University in New York City, recently gave a 12-minute TEDx talk at the Lincoln School in Brookline, Mass.

A TEDx event is organized by volunteers from the local community whose purpose is to spark conversation, connection and community.

The theme of Greenspan’s talk, which was free, was Ideas in Action.

Greenspan’s 12-minute talk, which has been viewed more than 600 times, addresses the question “Can real estate development help against climate change?”

The focus of the talk was the model of community-based real estate development that Greenspan helped invent through Today’s Industrial Living Landscapes (TILL), of which Greenspan is co-founder.

Greenspan spoke about the Gilbert & Bennett wire mill, a manufacturing company in Georgetown that closed long ago, leaving a contaminated site classified as a brownfield.

According to a prior Pilot article, the town is suing to foreclose millions of dollars in unpaid tax liens on the property. However, the foreclosure cannot extinguish tens of millions of dollars in bonds and other debt owed by a separate municipal district — the Georgetown Special Taxing District — which had been created for the original project by the state legislature in 2005. Those obligations could make the property unattractive to new developers.

Greenspan’s talk describes how, through TILL, she and other young people are playing a direct role in deciding what should be built at G&B that would be environmentally healthy.

One suggestion TILL offers is to construct buildings at G&B using a type of engineered wood called cross-laminated timber (CLT), which would reduce carbon from the atmosphere.

“Cross-laminated timber is as strong as steel and concrete, but what’s unique about it is it’s made of 50% carbon from the air,” said Greenspan, a former Easton resident who is majoring in economics with a focus on environmental sustainability and neuropsychology.

“Through TILL, G&B would not be contributing to climate change and, in fact, would be carbon-negative,” Greenspan said. “Our development would help slow down climate change since we would be taking carbon out of the atmosphere.”

Thinking globally

Greenspan said she is not just thinking about her hometown community when it comes to her work with TILL — she’s looking for global solutions.

“What began as a problem specific to my community has transformed into a solution that can be applied globally to help slow down climate change,” Greenspan said.

Greenspan’s involvement with G&B

Greenspan first became involved with G&B as a 10th grader at Barlow, under the direction of local artist Jane Philbrick of Redding.  

Along with fellow Barlow students, as well as students from Redding Elementary School and John Read Middle School, she participated in an internship program called Re-Wire, which brainstormed ideas of what G&B could become.

Aside from her coursework at Fordham University, Greenspan was president and co-manager of the on-campus urban farm and community garden for two years. She is a student leader at the school’s Social Innovation Collaboratory.

“I’ve organized a sustainable food working group and helped create and organize field work teams. One project I was deeply involved in was the sustainable food practicum — an outcome of which was the creation of a plant-based food station in Fordham’s cafeteria,” she said, adding that  this interest was sparked by Re-Wire.

Moving forward

Greenspan said she plans to continue to build engagement in her community. Over the past year, TILL has held four community conversations throughout Connecticut. TILL will be presenting on Monday, March 5, at 6:30 p.m. at the Huntington Branch Library in Shelton to a group called Save Our Shelton.  

She said she’s now anxious to put TILL’s vision to work at the G&B site.

“If you live in the Redding-Georgetown area, the important thing to know is something is going to happen with that property, regardless of whether or not TILL develops there. TILL has a model the community has been receptive to,” she said. “Conventional development has been tried at this site multiple times and has left an immense cost to the community.”

Greenspan said that whatever development is currently on the table in regard to G&B, “we have to ask ourselves, ‘Is this something Georgetown needs or is this something the developer needs?’” she said. “We need to determine what’s best for our short- and long-term future.”

She explained that there are 2 million to 3 million brownfields in the United States alone.

“What if we turned every one of them into economically productive carbon storage sites? That’s a world I want to live in,” she said.

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