Ecocentricity Blog: Making Magic

By: John A. Lanier
May 5, 2021 10:30 AM ET
Campaign: Ecocentricity Blog

Ecocentricity Blog: Making Magic

Many people find magic in nature. For some, it’s in the way greenspaces make us feel – calm, relaxed, part of something larger. For others, the magic stems from nature’s remarkable complexity, whether at the grand scale of bioregions or the microscale of DNA molecules coding for life. For me though, I find the magic of nature in a seed.

Take the seed of the white oak tree, more commonly called an acorn. It is such a tiny thing that my toddler daughter could throw it clear across our living room. But planted in good soil, with plentiful access to the sunlight and water, that little nut can grow to a height of 100 feet and live for centuries. I find that to be a remarkable force in the universe.

It's also the perfect metaphor for one of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation’s own little seeds. Nearly six years ago, we spun out The Ray to be its own nonprofit. At the time, it was little more than an idea first dreamt up by my aunt Harriet Langford. “What if?” she wondered. What if the 18-miles of interstate in west Georgia called The Ray C. Anderson Memorial Highway could be more than just a road? What if it could be redesigned and reimagined to be sustainable, if not regenerative? And what if it could become a model for the world?

So she and my uncle Phil Langford took that little idea and planted it. They tended and nurtured it as the first roots took hold, and by the time it began to branch out, they had recruited others – Allie Kelly, Alan Anderson, John Picard, and now many more – to help them. In time, some flowers began to appear – an electric vehicle charging station, bioswales, solar roadway and right-of-way solar – which have all yielded good fruit. And I know that many more growing seasons are still to come.

Now, having begun to fully mature as an organization (in the biological sense, as opposed to the rambunctious teenager sense), The Ray is beginning to wield the same power that made the Ray Anderson story itself so important – influence. Much like the oxygen and erosion control that trees offer to other organisms in their habitats, The Ray is helping to give life to other ideas. This was on display just this past week in the form of an exciting announcement from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

This announcement was a guidance document for division offices and state departments of transportation related to the utilization of the right-of-way (ROW) areas along highways. In their words: “This guidance document supports the consistent utilization of the ROW for renewable energy generation, electrical transmission and distribution projects, broadband projects, vegetation management, inductive charging in travel lanes, alternative fueling facilities, and other appropriate uses as identified herein.”

While The Ray is not specifically mentioned in the document, I assure you they have been busy helping the FHWA behind the scenes. Every single one of those ROW uses is something The Ray has been either actively deploying or evaluating for use along the Ray C. Anderson Memorial Highway. Their experience and vision proved critical in supporting the FHWA in crafting this document, which will now go on to have an impact across our country as we bring our highways fully into the 21st Century.

Congratulations to FHWA for taking this step, and congratulations to The Ray for its role. I can’t wait to see what magic you create next!

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Valerie Bennett
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Ray C. Anderson Foundation
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