success stories

A Success Story of a Catholic church program
that fights against urban sprawl in Connecticut

By Mary Chalupsky
Catholic News Service

The Catholic Church is taking a lead role on a social justice issue affecting people in towns and cities across Connecticut -- urban sprawl.

The flight of jobs and people from city centers to the suburbs has eroded tax bases, created congested roads and resulted in pesticide run-off and more pollution, leading to, among other things, higher incidences of asthma among children.

In response, the Archdiocese of Hartford's Office of Urban Affairs is spearheading the CenterEdge Project -- a coalition of people from diverse interests working to educate people in the state about disparities caused by the population shift.

At the helm as chairman is Hartford Auxiliary Bishop Peter A. Rosazza. The coalition includes groups and organizations of all types: religious, environmental, business, civil rights, educational, government and civic, as well as those that focus on housing and social services.

"Today, every one of Connecticut's 169 towns fends for itself in terms of jobs, taxes, economic development," Bishop Rosazza told The Catholic Transcript, newspaper of the Hartford Archdiocese. "One town fights against the other for new business and tax rebates. What we have now is not working."

He said the question that needs to be answered is "what can be done to make a better living climate for everyone" and at what cost.

"What we're looking at is regionalism," he continued, describing a model in which towns band together to create a common taxing structure and economic development coalitions. In Minneapolis, for example, 37 towns formed a regional conglomerate to raise taxes together and create a formula to distribute funds.

"In every state, the Catholic Church has been a leader," Bishop Rosazza said. "The Catholic Church has long been an example of great social teaching and sense of moral good. We're one nation under God, therefore we're also one state under God. We're all brothers and sisters. We've got to work toward the common good."

The first meeting of coalition members took place last November. The group is working with a Minneapolis-based metropolitan research group to create a series of maps that document issues by areas throughout the state. The coalition will work to educate and raise awareness among constituents on the issues.

As part of the effort, a CenterEdge parish education project was developed for Catholic parishes to teach parishioners about the church's social teaching and about regional issues. It is one of only five in the country chosen by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for a $50,000 grant from a private foundation.

Eventually, it is hoped that CenterEdge will lead to public policy changes designed to improve the quality of life in Connecticut.

"This is a tremendous idea that has attracted a lot of support," said Bishop Rosazza. "It's something for today that can help make life better for a lot of people. I'm very encouraged, and I look for even greater support from our parishes and citizens throughout the state."