September 27, 2004
Taking small steps is often the best way to begin answering life’s big questions, said the Rev. Karen Eynon.
On Sunday, Eynon helped lead a small group’s discussion about one of the Valley’s big questions: How to sustain the region’s fragile Sonoran Desert environment amid rapid urban growth.
About 30 people gathered at Paradise Valley United Methodist Church to view a documentary about the impact of development on the Valley’s air quality, water resources, ecosystems and quality of life, and then talk about how to influence decision making on those issues.
The forum was the first effort of an urban growth task force organized by the church, where Eynon is associate pastor in charge of social outreach.
It’s part of the church’s mission "to look beyond our own back yards . . . in caring for God’s creation,’’ she said. The task force wants to spark debate in Valley churches about dealing with urban growth from a spiritual viewpoint. It won’t try to tell other community groups what positions to take on growth issues, Eynon said, but will encourage them "to educate themselves on the issues and get involved.’’
Tackling the subject in church settings, even one small gathering at a time, can be more effective "because it’s where people are willing to be more open and to communicate and not be politically divided. And by working through churches, we can reach different parts of the community,’’ said Scottsdale resident Katie Lincoln, president of the Lincoln Foundation.
The foundation’s Lincoln Institute of Land Policy cosponsored the forum.
The institute’s film presents a portrait of the "growth machine’’ the Valley has become in the past few decades, with urban development spreading across desert terrain at a rate matched in few places in the world.
The pace makes the public feel powerless to gain control of their communities, said Sierra Club spokeswoman Sandy Bahr, who helped lead the discussion.
"The problem is that people think all this growth is inevitable. . . . The attitude is that urban sprawl is what we’re all about and you just have to go with it,’’ Bahr said.
With an economy dependent on growth, the discussion has to be about growth that conserves, rather than drains, natural resources, said Jim Holway, assistant director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources and a member of Gov. Janet Napolitano’s Growing Smarter Oversight Council.
Audience members said the biggest hurdle will be getting Valley cities to put cooperation over economic competition in attracting and managing growth.