Veterans cemetery plan at Crown Hill declares war on community coherence and a priceless urban forest
Wendell Berry’s 2005 book The Way of Ignorance extols the virtue of coherence in communities— that condition which is generally characterized by higher-order social and cultural values which seem to be increasingly under assault in America.
Berry laments the general destructiveness of the industrial economy, and we’ve often witnessed its anti-nature, anti-social effects. Most recently in Indianapolis, a large tract of woods, wetlands, and wildlife habitat at 86th and Meridian was wantonly destroyed, during the spring nesting season, by a Texas-based housing developer. In many parts of Indianapolis, the only remaining undeveloped tracts are low-lying and wooded and comprise the scant remaining natural fabric of our community. These natural areas, sometimes called “refugia” by ecologists, have too often become the target of the industrial economy which is always searching for “raw land” to develop.
Crown Hill cemetery and the Department of Veterans Affairs are contributing parties to this destruction. Their plan for a 15-acre national veteran’s columbaria cemetery for above-ground internment of cremated remains would cut the heart out of a tract of virgin forest along West 42nd Street. This would be completely unnecessary because several common-sense and likely lower-cost alternatives are apparent. None of the obvious less destructive alternatives were evaluated by either Crown Hill or the VA and none were presented for public consultation.
Berry writes: “The most forceful context of every habitat now is the industrial economy that is doing damage to all habitats. We can’t preserve neighborliness, or charity, or peacability, or an ecological consciousness, or anything else worth preserving, at the same time we maintain an earth-destroying economy”.
In defense of its destructive plan, Crown Hill is quick to assert that the property is properly zoned for cemetery use. It claims, for that reason, that there should be no objection or debate about the appropriateness of a veteran’s cemetery on the forested tract. The VA’s project manager, the Army Corps of Engineers/Louisville district, has also stated that dubious claim. Unfortunately however, in Indianapolis, our system of zoning almost never protects natural areas unless they are existing public parks. In his book’s essay, The Purpose of a Coherent Community, Berry appropriately condemns the earth’s “ruthless exploiters who are claiming everywhere their ‘right’ to plunder, waste, corrupt and destroy the great possessions that have been given to us on the condition only of our devoted care”.
The VA should immediately re-open the public review process for this plan, invite wide public input, and fairly consider all practicable alternatives. The public trust and community coherence depend on it.