Community ready to identify ‘rubble,' work for greener future, GreenTown participants say

By: ISU Communications and Marketing Staff, ISU Communications and Marketing Staff
November 22, 2011

The air is cleaner and less odorous, downtown continues to rebound and there is newfound interest in and respect for the Wabash River and its wetlands.

Participants in a GreenTown-Terre Haute breakout session pointed to those developments as indications that a sustainability plan for Terre Haute and Vigo County is already taking shape.

About a dozen people took part in the two-hour session Nov. 17 as part of the GreenTown conference sponsored by Our Green Valley Alliance for Sustainability and Indiana State University.

"The upcoming ‘Year of the River' in 2013 seems to be a powerful opportunity and there is a growing sense about revitalizing Terre Haute as a college town," said alliance member Richard House, a professor of English at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

The session was intended to jump start development of a community sustainability plan but the first steps had already been taken, said Kara Kish, assistant superintendent of the Vigo County Parks Department.

"There are actually quite a few groups that are already working on what we would call components of a sustainability plan," Kish said. "What we're going to try to do from here forward is to try to bring those groups together and try to define what a sustainability plan is going to look like for Terre Haute and Vigo County."

Many of those who took part in the GreenTown working session noted that Terre Haute is much larger geographically than most cities of 60,000 and they favor efforts to get more people to live downtown. That's consistent with plans by Indiana State University to work even more closely with city officials and downtown businesses on downtown redevelopment and to develop student housing downtown.

"Downtown seems obviously to be at the center of what we want to do - creating density of downtown with mixed-use development," House said. "Getting access to the best features of the community for all residents will be important."

Workshop participants also included in their wish lists a greater reliance on walking and bicycling, rather than driving, use of more locally produced foods by area residents and additional public access to the river.

Transportation and energy will be important issues, as well, "but we didn't get to those as much as we need to." House said.

During his keynote address at the GreenTown summit, Bob Dixson, mayor of one of the nation's most recognized "green" communities, said the 2007 tornado that destroyed 95 percent of his town provided an opportunity to address systematic problems Greensburg, Kan., faced even before the twister. He called on Terre Haute to begin its effort to build a better future by first identifying its own rubble that may not be as obvious as that left by a tornado.

"In some sense, we certainly have areas that need redevelopment, but ours isn't physical rubble, ours is a sense of our history, perhaps moving out of [being] a community that seemed to be in decline and having a sense of renewal," said House, "maybe a renewal of purpose more than physical renewal as they had to do in Greensburg."

Dixson told how Greensburg is rebuilding itself as a "green" town by involving the entire community in grassroots fashion.

Jane Morse, a board member of Trees, Inc., said while the grassroots didn't really turn out for GreenTown, "I think the people who can engage that grassroots did. I think there's enough civic leadership and stakeholders that I really do think things can happen as a result. I can see the wheels starting to move. We have got a lot of strengths and a lot of good things happening here. The momentum is in the right direction."

Our Green Valley Alliance will try to keep that momentum going when it meets Dec. 7 at the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice at St. Mary-of-the-Woods to celebrate the success of the GreenTown conference and continue work on a community sustainability plan.

Media contact and writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or dave.taylor@indstate.edu