Smart, Green Community Development

By Mary Nelson 12-14-2007

"We have the ability to solve this crisis and avoid the worst of its consequences, if we act boldly, decisively and quickly", said Al Gore in is Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. He called on the U.S. and China, the worst polluters, to stop blaming others and take action "or stand accountable before history for their failure to act." God calls us to care for creation and the generations to come; we, too, will stand judged if we do not rouse from our doze and not only call for action on the national scene, but set an example with our own actions.

I was recently in Germany at a gathering of Catholics and Protestants discussing what kind of Europe they wanted, especially around the issues of peace, environment, and human suffering. I was heartened by the signs of making a difference of the long time efforts at the issues of peace and environment. One of the outcomes of the meeting was to call on the Church to set an example of care for the environment in every new building project they do, making sure they were energy efficient, used solar or thermal technology, etc. I hope we challenge the Church here in the U.S. to set an example, not only in new construction efforts, but in retrofitting our buildings, in encouraging parishioners to walk more, (drive less), to re-use, etc.

Bethel New Life, a faith-based community development corporation on Chicago's west side, built a "smart, green building" at a major transit stop in the community, cutting energy usage in half with a green roof, solar panels, super insulation, etc. Bethel recently received the GOLD LEED rating for environmental excellence, a first in a low-income community. The building, connected to the transit platform, houses a day care center, employment services, a community-focused bank, and community owned businesses - a coffee shop and sandwich shop, among others. This development had been a long and tortuous effort - in assembling the funds, acquiring building permits, and finding contractors who could do things differently. It is a great example of intentional development that creates multiplying impact on community and environment.

Mary Nelson is president emeritus of Bethel New Life, a faith-based community development corporation on the west side of Chicago. She is also a board member of Sojourners.

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