Waiting to Be Developed


I was in my late twenties when I was exposed to the idea of greenfield and brownfield development. Never having formal training on urban planning or economic development, it took me some time to understand what was involved.  Simply put, greenfields include undeveloped land (in a city or rural area) that has never been built upon. Brownfields, in contrast, are abandoned areas of previous industrial or commercial use which have the potential for redevelopment.  Both spaces hold opportunity for fresh purpose and use; be it recreational, commercial or some other type of development.

Living in a mid-size city that possesses many brownfield and greenfield assets, the subject of brownfield versus greenfield development always seemed to spark lively conversation and imagination.  In some ways, it was equally scary to entertain either option. There was something about our untouched land that seemed sacred and safe. Paving paradise to put up a parking lot felt like corruption of something formerly pure and sacred.  At the same time, brownfield development could mean resurrecting the dead; scouring through toxins and reliving old failures and wounds.

Who knew that land use and development would be the theme that would pop into my head on the first day of the new year, 2019.

 It does seem that strange metaphors have a tendency to find their way into my brain at just the right time. These images, however, hold symbolic meaning for most of our lives.  As we think about the year ahead, there are undoubtedly undeveloped lands where the soil is ready to be tilled. It can feel risky to try something new….to pave a way into the wilderness.  Past screw-ups or disappointments can weld themselves into our psyche enough to convince us that not trying is better than “getting it wrong.” Therefore, too many canvasses don’t get painted and musical instruments don’t get played. People don’t get the help they need and we unconsciously convince ourselves that life is easier spent passively consuming than actively creating.   On the other hand, revisiting wastelands can also seem risky and painful. Whether it is a relationship that needs forgiveness and mending or a project in the garage that I’ve started three times and can’t seem to finish, brownfields require me to clean through a mess to find new glory revealed. In reality, some brownfields need to be left alone. The investment required to decontaminate or resurrect old structures just aren’t worth it at this time.  However, each one of us probably have areas of life that we thought were dead that just need a little disciplined effort and creativity to be given new or refreshed purpose again.

I’m grateful to say that at Think Tank we are constantly given the opportunity for greenfield and brownfield development, metaphorically speaking.  This year holds the promise of new collaborations that give platform for people, who are transcending poverty, to share their stories and be given greater influence to lead change.   Additionally, we have some old projects that we’re excited to dust off and bring new life to again.

I hope you’ll take the next few days in quiet reflection and imagination about your life’s areas of wilderness and wasteland, waiting to be developed in 2019.

Marlo Fox, Executive Director, Think Tank, Inc.

To learn more about Marlo's work, please visit

More Than A Place to Lay My Head


A couple weeks ago I spent some time in Portland. I had heard and read about the accelerating state of homelessness in Seattle, Portland & other West Coast cities, but this is the first time that I had seen it at this level with my own eyes. I am embarrassed to say that in the moment I found myself going back & forth between staring at the roadside tent camps and just wanting to look away - pretending this wasn't happening to real people in this beautiful city.

You see, most of the time poverty & its effects are not so visible to many of us and poverty manifests itself in a variety of ways.

However, there are a few lessons that we can draw upon from Portland’s battle to combat homelessness, that serve as an illustration for all of us working to fight poverty in our own communities.First, we must acknowledge that the issues are always more than what’s on the surface. Some of us may have been conditioned  to think that such circumstances arise because of personal failures on the part of those affected. Yet we know that individuals working full-time in low-wage jobs in Portland are paying up to 80% or more on rent alone. In order to understand the forces contributing to  poverty, we must be willing to see the big picture, while listening to those affected without judgment.Second, sometimes good intentions backfire.  County Commissioners serving the Portland area made a bold move to promise every homeless individual a shelter.  However, their no-turn-away sheltering policy proved to be more than the city could handle and ended up drawing people in need of shelter from other counties and other states, exacerbating the issue.  We can’t always anticipate the unintended consequences of our actions, however, we know that all too often our helping actually hurts.  That’s why it is so vital to include many voices in the solutions, from those with power and resources to those directly affected by the issues.Finally, relationships are key. - There are many critical services in our communities that meet people in their state of crisis and provide relief.  Yet as we move beyond crisis management to address the root causes driving poverty, we realize how vital a network of supportive relationships are. Many who find themselves on the streets experience great isolation, and do not have access to people with the resources and committed presence to ensure their wellbeing.   We believe that it takes more than a program or charity to create transformation in the lives of individuals and communities impacted by poverty. That's why we place our focus on building relationships across economic lines.Think Tank is over a decade old now.  When we started Think Tank, we recognized that there were thousands of people and organizations on the front lines of poverty alleviation, but very few were coming alongside these helpers.  We knew that we had to be champions for them, and to ask the hard questions about how our helping was benefiting, or hurting people living in poverty. Additionally, we believed in working to ensure that people with lived experience in poverty were center stage - influencing the direction & priorities that our communities embraced.  We recognize that we have not been exempt from imposing help that has hurt or charging ahead with solutions without first stopping to listen to the voices and leadership provided by people who have experienced poverty.  This is why we value our relationships so much. Relationships developed across economic lines are the heartbeat and discipline that keeps us working together for the good of our communities.  This season, I encourage you to take some time to:

  • Recognize that poverty is more than what you may see on the surface. Be quick to listen rather than judge.

  • Offer a word of appreciation to those that labor day in and out to fight the root causes of poverty in your community.

  • Think about how you might take a step to build a relationship with someone experiencing material poverty.