Preservation of natural areas should continue well into future

By Morton Marcus

Hoosier cities often have natural areas left over from the conversion of woods to farmland and the subsequent urban development. These are patches of land, stands of trees and vistas along waterways as yet undisturbed by the generations preceding us.

We, then, have the opportunity to preserve a natural area in our time and allow later generations to explore their land use options.

Such opportunities feed greed, ego and civic virtue alike. There is a section of Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis that illustrates this truism. Here, centuries-old trees survive along the northern edge of the property. In 2006 and 2007, Crown Hill, a private enterprise, attempted to sell the land for development as a commercial strip mall.

A band of citizens, guided in part by the Indiana Forest Alliance, stopped that desecration.

Recently, the U.S. Veterans Administration sought a site to honor the cremated remains of those who served their country. What better place than Crown Hill where distinguished Hoosiers (including poet Riley and gangster Dillinger) have been interred?

Crown Hill and the VA cut a deal for $850,000, and the VA designed a facility that would have cut down the ancient trees. The VA dutifully posted a notice in the Federal Register. How often do you read the Federal Register?

Pressed by concerned citizen groups, the VA conducted public meetings at which the arrogance and narrow-focus of the bureaucratic mind was fully displayed. And they gave out a party favor: emery boards — the perfect gift from those who are abrasive and out of touch with concerned citizens.

Finally, with the delayed help of a few elected officials, the VA exchanged the disputed property for other land at the cemetery. A private foundation then matched the VA purchase price, to preserve the forest’s distinctive assets and donate it to the city for a nature park.

The last I heard, Crown Hill was stalling, no doubt seeking more money, in the perpetual lust for more. What steps will the cemetery take next to obtain more money, more attention and more business? Will they transform the property from a resting place to a tourist attraction?

This brings us to another, current ill-advised effort in Indianapolis. A developer wants to cut down the small forest at an intersection on 86th Street to build a commercial/residential facility.

The acres abut the Keystone expressway and the heavily developed, commercial stretch along 86th and 82nd streets from the Fashion Center east to the Castleton Mall and beyond.

There is no evidence added commercial space is needed in this already congested Indianapolis area. But developers don’t have to demonstrate community need. All they require is financing and a compliant zoning board.

Again, a group of citizens is battling to preserve the woods, to maintain a remembrance of our inheritance and our responsibility to future generations. Wish them luck.

Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to