On April 16, at the Hospital Reuse presentation at City Hall, a slide was shown that told us that we, the citizens of Bloomington, will be repurposing a piece of land that for 114 years has served a single purpose—as a hospital. Although I have been following the hospital site redevelopment for years, this was the moment when I first thought of Asclepius, and the significance of healing places.
Most of us are familiar with the Rod of Asclepius, the snake-entwined staff that is the symbol of medicine.* The ancient temples of that Greek god, the asclepion, were powerful places of pilgrimage that people traveled to in search of healing.
How many people have traveled to some incarnation of IU Health Bloomington Hospital hoping to be healed? I doubt there is a single citizen in this town who has not had a loved one patched up, a beloved child born, or a dear one pass from this life into the Big Mystery in that hospital. Many of us have been healed ourselves, or received bad news, or good news, or most common of all, uncertain news. At this point the land is unarguably sacred—to many of us personally, and to our community as a whole. It may also be valuable in dollar signs, but its real value lies in its meaning to the citizenry of our region. New York City’s Central Park occupies land that is worth a gazillion dollars, but to the people of New York, the park is priceless.
Discerning the best way to respectfully work with this piece of land that has literally touched every one of our lives should be our common goal. When the buildings are razed, the water-sheeting asphalt jack-hammered up, how will we bring this sacred property back into the fold of our community? Connecting with the neighborhoods of Prospect Hill and McDoel Gardens, knitting together the space between the B-Line and the properties west of the hospital, is critical: more than developing, it is welcoming that land back into the community. Instead of rushing to develop it—and there are many different ideas about what that word even means—we should aim to seamlessly weave it back into the neighborhoods that surround it, with an eye towards regenerative development, and perhaps inspired by the Slow Movement. In this way we may begin to honor all of the lives that have moved through the “healing temple” that is currently there.
Perhaps you live at a distance from the hospital, and think this issue has nothing to do with you. But if you’ve had any interaction with the hospital, then this does have something to do with you. Consider how your fellow Bloomingtonians, the residents and businesses that border the hospital site, have by default been holding space for our community’s well-being for over a hundred years. (How many times has an ambulance screaming down 2nd street in the middle of the night awakened me? That, I will not miss.)
The word “heal” is related to “whole.” Mending takes time; it cannot be rushed. To repurpose this utterly unique piece of land, without folding its history into its future use, would be a missed opportunity. Wouldn’t we prefer that this continue to be a place of healing, on another level? When I imagine what that land can become, I envision a place that holds space for the healing powers of nature, where life is able to live, and where wholeness is supported: not just for those with deep pockets, but for everyone in our community.
* Note: Or maybe we’re familiar with the caduceus, the staff of Hermes, which is often confused with the Rod of Asclepius.