Wednesday, June 18, 2008

South Bend's Efforts to Protect the Environment

Last night I attended the Community Forum for Economic Development. I heard Gary Gilot, SB's Director of Public Works, discuss how his department addresses global warming by dealing with transportation, infrastructure, urban design, and environmental management. I also heard Christine Fiordalis, Chair of the Michiana Group of the Sierra Club, discuss the Cool Cities Initiative, which our mayor signed on Earth Day.

It was a 2-hour meeting, so there was alot of information to process. To provide a few highlights, I heard plans for creating 50-miles of bike paths to form a network of bike trails in five years; using LED traffic lights to save energy cost in the next decade; discussion of using more hybrids and fewer trucks; planting more native plants and flowers to reduce mowing; grid heating to take heat off computers to use as heat sinks (this is already being done at the Conservatory Greenhouse - this technology may also be used for heating the pool at Potowatomi Park, the Wastewater Anaerobic Digester, and Memorial Hospital).

There were a couple of things that didn't quite sit right with me, though. At the beginning of the presentation, Gary showed a picture of the St. Joseph River running through the city. He pointed out the many trees along the river, and how the trees and surrounding ground cover play an important role to reduce soil erosion. And then he said that they were involved in taking down some trees to provide people with a better view of the river. Huh? Did I hear that right? Yes I did.

The other discordant point he made had to do with the Eddy Commons that's currently under construction. For those of you who don't know, Eddy Commons is an area close to the Notre Dame campus. It's 25-acres of forest land that's going to be cleared to build a shopping center, hotels, and condominiums. Gary touted the construction of Eddy Commons as a method to decrease urban sprawl and increase walkable urban communities. But what he didn't mention was the decimation of all the animals that once lived in the forest. Where do they go? Why do we have to clear this land when there's a perfectly good downtown center that desperately needs revitalization? What are the implications for replacing the woods with a shopping center?

All in all, it was useful for me to attend this meeting. I learned how critically important it is to know what's happening in the community, who's in charge of making these decisions, and how I can voice my concerns to hopefully make a positive impact. It's so important to be engaged and not disengaged with local issues.

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SBCatMan said...

Clearing the Eddy Commons area is an irreversable environmental disaster. It is a great big black eye on the city and should be an embarrassment to all concerned.

Michelle Verges said...

I wholeheartedly agree. I was stunned that he couched it as an example of how SB is protecting the environment.

Nate Ring said...

Ahh. But it is N.D. prerogative to clear that land...Imagine it. Living, shopping, visiting all in the view of ND.
That is more of a marketing decision than an economic one.

Albeit, they are building two new hotels downtown (two 11 story hotels, mind you the Chase building is 14 stories).

The bike paths are a fantastic improvement! I'd love to use them. Although, if you were to bike from where I live you would surely die. If the hills and demanding paths don't kill you, the cars will...

Glad to hear there are some improvements for DTSB coming up.