A growing national movement is examining the connection between various problems that society faces, including urban decline, disappearing farmlands and wildlife habitat, increasing air and water pollution, racial polarization, city/suburban disparities in public education, the lack of affordable housing, and the erosion of life in our communities. These are not isolated and unrelated issues. Commentators have viewed these problems as having common roots, sharing a kinship through the politics and economics of land use development. To varying degrees, they derive from sprawl, the helter-skelter nature of low-density development surrounding cities that has largely defined postwar American life.
Progress has been seen in various areas that have adopted solutions to end urban sprawl as part of the "Smart Growth Movement." This is a movement to encourage patterns of development that consume less land and fewer resources, to discourage sprawl, and to promote investment in existing urban centers. While different solutions are appropriate for different regions of the country, for different states, and for different regions within states, there is a growing recognition that immediate action is necessary if our communities' problems are to be resolved. The Union of American Hebrew Congregations has long recognized its responsibility to try to improve the world in which we live. In the 1991 resolution on "The Environment," we recognized that the Jewish community's mandate to cultivate, protect, and nurture the environment is deeply rooted in our tradition. The commandment "lo tashchit" enjoins us "not to destroy" things from which humanity benefit (Deuteronomy 20:19). The warnings against idolatry found in Deuteronomy remind us that if we abuse the environment, displaying contempt for the integrity of God's creation, pure rain will cease to fall and the ground will cease to yield its produce.
Recently, the CCAR, in its new "Statement of Principles," has stated, "partners with God in tikkun olam, repairing the world, we are called to help bring about the messianic age. We are obligated to narrow the gap between the affluent and the poor." Included in our obligation of tikkun olam is to protect the earth's natural resources: to redeem those in physical, economic, and spiritual bondage; and to welcome the stranger. In this regard, the Union has long advocated for providing programs for social progress, including the repair of our cities.
Through various federal, state, and local programs over the past fifty years, we have been subsidizing the creation of urban sprawl, the unintentional consequence of which has been the near destruction of our cities and the growing problems reaching the inner ring suburbs. We are destroying farmland, destroying the environment, and making it difficult for there to be community among our diverse population. Urban planners are advocating that we focus on solving our urban problems through various "Smart Growth" solutions. It is important for the UAHC to join the "Smart Growth movement" for the betterment of our congregants and our society.
THEREFORE , the Union of American Hebrew Congregations resolves to:
- Request the Religious Action Center and the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism to study urban planning and other initiatives sponsored by Smart Growth advocates, which may resolve the various problems (such as lack of affordable housing, the destruction of our inner cities, serious community problems facing our inner ring suburbs, the destruction of the environment, and the loss of open space and farmlands) facing our communities and to distribute the results of their studies to the regions and member synagogues;
- Authorize the Religious Action Center to join national coalitions advocating effective "Smart Growth" initiatives at the federal level;
- Encourage the regional directors and regional Social Action Committees to provide a format for ad hoc state committees to become knowledgeable about "Smart Growth" or similar initiatives at the state level and to provide education on such initiatives to member congregations within each state so that they may take appropriate action in advocating for such initiatives; and
- Urge member congregations to become knowledgeable about state and local initiatives regarding "Smart Growth" approaches to stopping urban sprawl and to explore ways in which communities can address problems of urban society to further our previously established goal of fostering tolerance, affordable housing, educational opportunity for the poor and minorities, and stewardship of the environment.