CRE Forum – December 12, 2014

CRE Forum – December 12, 2014
At this forum we met to discuss the Sewanee downtown plan which was presented at the previous
forum in November. What could we bring to the discussion and decision-making process as religious
environmental people? Following are some of the perspectives that were explored and discussed.
It was pointed out that the downtown Sewanee land is owned by the University, which is itself owned
by the dioceses of the Episcopal Church. This should be taken into account in land use decisions. If
development proceeds in a way which is “over the top,” unnecessary, or that doesn’t take into account
the actual composition of the community, this affects the public witness of the Episcopal Church.
In Sewanee, the sense of place is very important. Do the planners realize that this is a unique place, not
like others? The plan should reflect our uniqueness. Right now there’s a sense that the plan is a lot like
the kind of development that is a current fad in university towns, and that may not fit Sewanee’s unique
location and situation. The university community that this plan was modelled on is bigger than the
Sewanee area. The Sewanee plan hinges on attracting visitors to the area in order to be financially
viable. However, all of the other small towns in the area are competing for those same visitors. Will this
increase the risk of failure?
Who is in the community, and who will be affected? Were they represented in the focus groups for the
downtown plan? Some saw the plan as somewhat elitist. Many locals have already been priced out of
the Sewanee community. Will those who are still here really want to be part of this plan? One example
that was given was the community center. Right now, it appeals to many people because it is simple
and affordable. If we make it more upscale, do we lose part of the community?
Is there an advocate on the planning team for the non-human parts of the community? The watersheds
in the area are degraded and there has been little storm water management. Has ecological health
been taken into account in the plan? There is overall concern about the plan’s sustainability, in terms of
ecological, community, and financial considerations.
From an ecological perspective, it would make more sense for planning to start with considering the
natural ecosystems and proceed from there, rather than being a side item or afterthought. Water, for
example, has always been a limiting factor in the Sewanee area. There were water shortages five or six
years ago. The downtown plan seems to be aimed at encouraging growth in the area. Is growth
necessarily desirable? Is it wise, considering our resources?
Part of living in Sewanee is living in a wooded landscape. Bits of wild and forested habitat are
embedded throughout even the developed parts of the campus. (Witness, for example, the frequency
of pileated woodpecker sightings on campus.) If these “wild and wooly” pockets are eliminated, it will
really change the character of our campus. The plan speaks of “knitting the village into the natural
environment” – but are they truly planning for this, or is such language more a sort of “green-washing”
that sounds environmentally friendly but in truth only addresses things on cosmetic level without a real
understanding of ecological needs?
Stewardship is integral to our faith. It was asked whether the Episcopal Church has specific statements
related to ecology, sustainability, and land use which we could bring into the conversation. What are
the Christian principles of land use, and is this something which the University has considered? The
University has a desire to be sustainable and has made efforts towards sustainability in other areas, but
do they see a connection between sustainability and faith? Is it considered in their decision making
about land use issues, and if not, why not?
We discussed the possibility of writing up a briefing sheet, summarizing some of the questions,
concerns, and suggestions of forum participants, and presenting it to those in authority in the
downtown planning process at the University. Areas that we might draw on include the mission
statements of the University and the Episcopal Church, various resolutions of the Church related to
Creation care, Christian ethics as it relates to land use, environmental values within Christian and other
faith traditions, and principles of green design. We would like the ecological, spiritual and community
concerns outlined above to be part of the conversation in the Sewanee downtown planning process.