brown land

In an urban setting, abandoned parcels left to fall to ruin are referred to as brown land. This is land both abandoned and damaged through processes of neglect and industrial use. The phrase encompasses run-down and unoccupied buildings (including former single residential dwellings) and other structures in an advanced state of disrepair, such as buildings with unsound roofs or boarded-up properties, as well as vacant lots and other potentially habitable, fertile, or undeveloped ground, occasionally supporting or surrounded by “trash woods.” The Environmental Protection Agency uses the official term brownfield to identify abandoned or underutilized properties subject to expansion or redevelopment. The agency has established several cataloging programs, involving ten regional “brownfield coordinators” across the United States. One survey estimated that as many as 400,000 brownfields exist in the United States. Another found more than 21,000 brownfields in 232 major American cities. Long before this urban designation, T. S. Eliot evoked the sense of it in his celebrated 1922 poem “The Waste Land”: “The river’s tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf/Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind/Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed./Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.”

Jeffery Renard Allen