What is a Greenfield Site?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

A greenfield site is an area of land that has never been developed or built up. Greenfield sites are often found in urban areas, providing a stark contrast to the heavily developed surrounding locale. Some greenfield sites have previously been used for agricultural purposes, but most are fields or vacant lots that provide a small bit of wilderness in urban or suburban landscapes.

A greenfield site is an area of land that has never been developed or built up.
A greenfield site is an area of land that has never been developed or built up.

Greenfield sites are often mentioned in contrast with brownfield sites. A brownfield site is a formerly developed plot of land that has been allowed to return to nature through disuse, decay, or the removal of developed additions. Brownfield sites are often distinguished by remaining evidence of development, such as paved areas.

Parks left to nature or landscaped for aesthetics are considered greenfields.
Parks left to nature or landscaped for aesthetics are considered greenfields.

A greenfield site can be an important part of an urban landscape. In areas where playgrounds are scare, vacant greenfield lots can serve as alternative adventuring grounds, dog parks, and even party sites. While many greenfield sites are privatized and access is forbidden, some are on public land and can be easily visited. Since greenfield sites are usually completely undeveloped, many become ersatz gardens for local wildflowers and trees. In addition to providing an unmaintained park atmosphere, trees and plants growing in a greenfield site can help decrease urban pollution and increase healthy air circulation.

The term greenfield site has gained common usage in a variety of areas, from software to wireless technology. In industrial terminology, greenfield status describes the recovery of land that was previously used for industrial pursuits. When a mine or plant closes, some governing bodies require that the land be closely monitored and cared for until a healthy local ecosystem develops. The process of returning the land to a natural state is sometimes referred to as greenfielding.

In the development of wireless engineering, existing greenfield sites became extremely important during the end of the 20th century. The undeveloped nature of a greenfield site became a greatly desired location for cellular towers as usage of wireless technology exploded. A greenfield site network is a term used to refer to wireless systems that were built without using existing infrastructure and rely on new transmission towers built in greenfield land.

Greenfield may be used to describe any type of construction from scratch that does not depend on pre-existing structures. In software, greenfield programs are those which are built using entirely new code. Sales, investment, and marketing industries may also refer to an untapped market as a greenfield site. The term has become a common description for anything natural and untouched, and is frequently used metaphorically rather than literally.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


In the UK, greenfield is found in the countryside and is usually ex- agricultural fields. There are some greenfields in towns, such as school playing fields, but not much. The land surrounding several towns to prevent urban sprawl is called greenbelt. Land that has been previously developed, in cities and towns, is called brownfield.

You may assume that greenfield is more biodiverse than brownfield, but that is likely false. Agricultural land is often polluted and a poor habitat whereas brownfield, due to its substrate, is often species rich in invertebrates.


A good example of a city that has a lot of greenfield sites is Wellington in New Zealand. They have what they call a "town belt" which is an area surrounding the city that cannot ever be developed and is still forested.

It was originally put there in order to drive up housing prices, since it meant that people didn't have as much land to choose from.

But they quickly realized that it made the whole city much more pleasant, reducing pollution and giving people a place to go to get away from the buildings.

It's still quite lovely to be able to walk for ten minutes from the city center and be surrounded by trees.


@umbra21 - That's harder than it sounds. With the case of the mining companies, often the area they destroyed is reasonably small geographically speaking, and is surrounded by an ecology that wasn't messed with (since there's not much point in building anything near a mine).

Granted, mines can do other kinds of damage, like releasing heavy metals into the area and so forth, but they don't destroy nearly as many acres as people who cut down rain-forest.

So, the ecology can quickly smooth over the damaged area. With the damaged ecology from tropical rain forest logging the damage is huge. It could take hundreds of years to completely regrow the whole thing, and that's if humans can carefully nurture the ecology through the stages it goes through to reestablish itself.

More likely, those areas will because some other kind of ecology now, like savanna.


I have long thought that greenfielding is something that should be more widespread. There are definitely places in the United States that could stand to undergo greenfielding, but I've always thought there was some way they could try to do this with the destroyed rain forests in countries like Brazil.

I know it's a slightly skewed version of the term, but it's basically the same thing as what they do after the mining companies have gone through. Rain forests are cut down so that agriculture can be done on the site. Unfortunately, the soil is so poor that they can't sustain plants or animals for more than a few years and eventually the land is abandoned. By that point it's worthless as there is no nutrient left in the soil.

If people could somehow artificially speed up what might happen anyway, a return of the rainforest to the land, we could start repairing some of the damage done there.

Post your comments
Forgot password?