Here's a nice overview story from Arkansas' Morning News about the tug of war between old cemeteries and new development. Quoted in the article is Paula Marinoni, a preservation advocate and real estate executive broker:
It’s everybody’s issue, not just a developer issue. The onus is on the entire community. It’s a matter of ethical responsibility for the community.
THE WORLD is turning many shades of green as society struggles with a collapsing economy and strives to build a new, sustainable, 21st-century economy.
President Barack Obama is leading the charge for green jobs and a new green economy. No longer is green solely the purview of leftist, tree-hugging types. Now, green is being embraced by all walks of life as we strive for a new way of living.
Within this conversation is an element that still takes green in the most literal sense. All over the country, communities are recognizing the value of green space and taking steps to create new green spaces and/or preserve what's there. And very often, what's there is a cemetery.
Cemeteries were at the heart of the earliest communities in America; in Philadelphia, where I work, Founding Father Benjamin Franklin's grave is in a cemetery in the heart of Old City, offering passers-by the opportunity to enter this small sanctuary of solace. The rural cemetery movement of the 19th century sent many graveyards out into the countryside, where visitors communed with nature while mourning the dead. Now, many of those same places -- which once were in the middle of nowhere -- are in the middle of sprawl.
Now, as communities strive to make "green connections" within their "gray communities, cemeteries should be integral parts of the process.
In some places, they are. Philadelphia includes cemeteries in its GreenPlan Philadelphia project. Lowell, Massachusetts, includes cemeteries in its plan for the Concord River Greenway. Salisbury, North Carolina, includes the Memorial Park Cemetery in its Greenway project; this portion of the Greenway is sponsored by a funeral home and "includes a bridge and encircles a scenic lake with visible wildlife." Indeed, a Google search of cemetery and greenway produces more than 43,000 hits. But unfortunately, the results seem mostly anecdotal; a town here, a neighborhood there.
It's time to make cemeteries a key component of all greenways projects. Studies indicate that property values remain higher for homes near all kinds of open space, including cemeteries. In addition to the open-space value, cemeteries also provide cultural, historic and community links, become havens for wildlife, and, in some places, offer the only green space in the neighborhood.
Some criticism and fears of cemeteries are legitimate. Left unattended, cemeteries become sites of neglect and disrepair, or even vandalism and criminal activities. But fully incorporating cemeteries into greenways projects brings them into the mind-set, keeps them from becoming unattended, abandoned sites. Cemeteries become abandoned when no one cares; make them integral to your community's plans, and they won't become abandoned.
Less than two weeks from now, cemeteries will be front and center in our nation's consciousness, as we celebrate Memorial Day. Even the shabbiest ones get spruced up for this annual ritual. Yes, cemeteries are there for us to honor the dead. But cemeteries are for the living, too, and should be part of all plans to make our communities more livable.
Greenville, South Carolina, is wrestling with historic preservation issues that could affect cemeteries. Funding is available for preservation measures -- but only if local standards match those of the states. Property-rights advocates say that this could give local historic preservationists powers even greater than eminent domain.
A professor and students from Wooster College in Ohio are taking on the task of finding the actual location of a long-abandoned cemetery that holds the remains of early Mennonite members of the community.
Officials in Bibb County, Ga., just discovered that they have no rules on handling abandoned cemeteries. The state has rules, which counties are free to adopt on their own. In this case, an abandoned cemetery has snarled plans to construct "a planned 1,000-acre residential and commercial development." Descendants of three of those buried in the Civil War-era graveyard object to moving graves. Here is an opinion piece on the matter.
"Show me your cemeteries, and I will tell you what kind of people you have." -- Benjamin Franklin
Where do we go when we die? This blog explores the places where cemeteries and land use intersect, and examines what urban planners and thinkers, communities and others are doing (and not doing) about cemeteries.
You can find a companion site at Facebook, and I'm tweeting about these subjects at Twitter, at @TaphoFiles.
You can read more about this blog at the Welcome post.
I am a journalist, adjunct professor of journalism and rural issues. I studied GIS, and I blog about cemeteries and land use, urban issues, and honey. All views expressed are those of the author alone.