Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Community Assets
distributed 6/29/01 - ©2001

On a hot summer day, the creek was a lively place.

I'd arrived in Boulder, Colorado, a few hours early for an evening meeting, and filled some of the time with a stroll along Boulder Creek, which flows out of the mountains directly into downtown and then along the edge of the university campus.

There were people of many ages (and quite a few dogs, too) splashing in the clear water. Folk were floating in inner tubes, and the upper reaches of the stream had kayakers playing in the rapids. One dedicated soul was trying to fly fish in the midst of the crowds.

The park along the stream bed was populated with kids at the playgrounds, readers in the shade, bicyclists on the 2-lane bike path, office workers running errands, and lots of people just walking. It was an oasis of cool and beauty in a city setting.

As I wandered along the stream, I was impressed, too, with the educational signs scattered through the park. The museum-quality signs put the creek in its biological, sociological and historical context. Some of the first few signs I saw talked about:

  • floods, and how planning for flooding is related to questions like zoning and bridge design

  • fish, and how to spot them

  • storm sewers, why they pose so many environmental risks, and what residents can do to keep the stream clean

  • the history of irrigation and development along the stream
Both the city government and the community folk are aware of how Boulder Creek is a marvelous asset for the town. But it took work to build and maintain that asset. The city fought legal battles over water rights. Urban planning and budget allocations were required to claim park space. The signage is a wonderful and essential effort to help people understand and appreciate the stream -- not just as water, but as the center of a complex set of relationships.

It is good to see a town put that sort of intentional effort into caring for a natural resource as part of the community's broader environment.

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I was early to my meeting because of a less pleasant reality of urban life.

The highways of the Denver-Boulder area hit gridlock at "rush hour," and the 40 mile drive could easily have taken 90 minutes of stop-and-go frustration. It is a scene repeated daily in metropolitan areas around the world.

The nasty traffic is a hassle that I do my best to avoid. On that day, I was able to arrange my schedule so that I could drive before the roads filled beyond capacity.

The clogged highways are a counterpoint to the beauty of Boulder Creek. In contrast to the blessings of the stream, the roads are a source of pollution, frustration and alienation. The failures of the transportation system are a drain on the community, not an asset. We pay high costs financially, emotionally and environmentally when the highways grind to a halt.

But gridlock is not inevitable. Just as Boulder used planning, finances and education to care for the creek, committed community efforts can make a difference for transportation. What might be involved?

  • A coherent, efficient and convenient network of public transportation.

  • Intergovernmental efforts to combat sprawl -- especially efforts to keep affordable housing close to the jobs.

  • Dealing with tax and zoning systems that reward growth and punish sustainability.

  • Designing incentives for flexible working hours and telecommuting.

  • Public education that helps people make wise choices for their families and in the voting booth.
Building a healthy and vibrant community takes planning and work. Our congregations can provide a special kind of leadership in that ongoing work. We bring expertise in community life, care for both humans and nature, and a commitment to fair and effective solutions.

Whether it is streams or highways, or some other part of our shared environment, our churches can help celebrate the successes and mobilize communities for healing.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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