Tearing apart the patchwork quilt of society

In their latest newsletter (PDF), my friends at AB417 lay a smackdown on the Internet:

There is no such thing as a cyber community. At best, there already exists a community that perhaps can be enhanced through an online connection. The problem is not the intranet (sic), but a society that sees it fit to spend time in a den in front of a box watching people that they have never met instead of having coffee with a neighbor.

And then they ask the question:

Is this due to design or demand?

My answer is: The design has fulfilled our demand.

Families and communities alike are patchwork quilts — collages of people knitted together not by choice or common interests, but by the happenstance of blood or proximity. The mix of people we happen to find in our homes and towns is where we can find our greatest opportunity for love and friendship, and also hatred and hard feelings.

When Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” the simple answer was whoever happens to be nearby. But neighbors can sometimes be unlovable. If you have a neighbor who is not easy to love, the old solution — in fact, the only one short of calling the police — was for you to look to your heart and seek a new attitude. Now, thanks to our modern mindset and wealth, you can instead look to your wallet and seek a new neighborhood.

Trying to flee from, instead of deal with, people in our families and communities has led to innumerable social problems. Exclusive suburbs, adultery, 80-hour work weeks, school busing and the generation gap, although not morally equivalent, all try to rearrange our natural living arrangements into something that allows us to avoid certain uncomfortable people or situations. They’re all attempts to tear apart the fabric of our patchwork quilts and rearrange our individual swatch with other swatches that we think we’ll prefer.

And then the Internet steps into this environment. It is no wonder that “social” Web sites such as Facebook and MySpace are so popular. They say they are “social,” but what they really do is drive a wedge between where you are and who you are.

So we cannot simply blame the Internet for our social situation. It has merely accelerated the splintering of American society that has been happening — and that we’ve wanted to happen — for decades.

Photo by Thant Zin Myint on Flickr

AB417’s essay is on the continuation page.

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Take a tour of Renaissance Pointe this weekend

The developers of Renaissance Pointe are hosting an open house of sorts this weekend and the next. If you’re interested in the renewal of Fort Wayne, consider taking a tour of the first few houses being built in this 36-block area south of downtown.

If you go, take your camera. Post some photos or videos online and let us know about them by leaving a comment below. (A good place to post photos is Flickr. For videos, you could consider Vimeo.)

The tour is from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and on Oct. 27-28 and includes the houses built in the 2400 block of John Street (Google map). Here’s the information about the tour.

And here’s even more info:

While you’re there, be sure to sit a while on a front porch. That’s the point of those, you know.

Related: Fate of future projects hinges on success of Renaissance Pointe. A column by Kevin Leininger

“Sidewalks in the Kingdom” podcast

Over on our Resources page, I’ve linked to a great podcast by “Sidewalks in the Kingdom” author Eric Jacobsen.

If you don’t know, “Sidewalks” is a highly recommended book on urbanism and the church. If you want an idea of what we’re hoping to accomplish with The Good City, “Sidewalks” would be a great place to start.

The book isn’t at the Allen County Public Library, and it’s likely not on a shelf in any bookstore locally. So you’d have to order it sight unseen.

But to get a big introduction to what Jacobsen’s book is advocating, download the MP3, recorded by the Work Research Foundation in Canada. It’s 54 minutes long and about 22MB.

Front porches vs. ‘American Idol’

1435352816_166e3f2654.jpgTonight I’m sitting out on the front porch of our 100-year-old rental house in a paleo-urbanistic neighborhood, and I’m quite enjoying myself. The porch light is on, my pipe is lighted, my legs are propped up on the balustrade, and a slight chill is in the air. Though dark outside, the old-fashioned street lamps allow me to see clearly up and down the street and notice the wonderful rhythm of other houses with similar front porches. Quickly, however, the charming atmosphere so much promoted by New Urbanists begins to fade as I notice that I’m the only one actually outside on my front porch. Well, you say, maybe it’s because this is the coldest night so far this fall. Not true, however. This has pretty much been the same as every other night: for all practical purposes, no one is ever out on their front porch!

So what’s the problem? Aren’t front porches supposed to encourage neighborhood interaction? Aren’t they supposed to make it easier to meet and connect with those living mere feet away? Clearly when the houses on this street were built, that seemed to be the reality. Why not now? Well, it didn’t take me more than a couple times walking up and down the block to realize the problem: instead of sitting out on the front porch, everyone is inside watching TV! Indeed, even if the street lights went out, it wouldn’t be pitch black because of the neon glare emanating from the front windows and doors!

It seems to me we can build better houses and streets and neighborhoods and cities until we’re blue in the face and never make a dent in the fragmentation and disconnectedness of society if we don’t deal with the real, underlying problems. As long as the TV is on 8.14 hours a day, no amount of front porches will ever allow neighbors to meet, let alone engage with and care for one another.

Architecture can certainly help. But it can only go so far. As much as design needs to change, behaviors and habits need to change even more if we’re ever going to experience real community.

PS: after I wrote this post, I stumbled upon this post. Well said, even if he is not as critical of TV as I am.

A call for entries: How you can help

Now that I’m 41, it’s time for be to admit I have aged out of Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana.

It’s a self-described “happenin’ organization of 20- and 30- somethings who do care,” so my oldest son may be closer to the median age of YLNI than I am.

But many of YLNI’s goals match my own, which is why I stayed past my expiration date.

I’m not from around here, so I need some advice: What do I do instead? Where do I and other like-minded citizens find ways to make Fort Wayne a good city?

Here’s what I’m looking for:

An organization that ministers to the health and well-being of the city and its citizens.

And I mean “minister” in the broadest definition, not just in the religious sense — although obviously the religious sense is included, too. Answers can be

  • neighborhood associations
  • think tanks
  • churches
  • governmental committees
  • business groups

any kind of group that has as one of its reasons for existence helping the city of Fort Wayne as a city. (Yes, New Haven groups are welcome to be listed.)

So leave a comment or send an email that includes the name of the group, a web site link or contact, and the reason you think it should be included in such a list. I hope to make this “How you can help” page a comprehensive resource for the city.