The new slum?

Are suburbs the new slum?

Great article at Especially page three, where the author predicts the future.

For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay.


Despite this glum forecast for many swaths of suburbia, we should not lose sight of the bigger picture—the shift that’s under way toward walkable urban living is a healthy development. In the most literal sense, it may lead to better personal health and a slimmer population. The environment, of course, will also benefit: if New York City were its own state, it would be the most energy-efficient state in the union; most Manhattanites not only walk or take public transit to get around, they unintentionally share heat with their upstairs neighbors.

 photo by evetsggod on flickr 

Britney Spears, “American Idol” and the corporate Cassanova

Why did Britney Spears hit such a personal and professional low? It’s not a typical Good City question, but I heard the echoes of one of our themes in a story on MSNBC headlined, “Who Can Save Her Image?”

Here’s the money quote from Eric Foster White, who co-wrote six songs on Britney’s first album, “Baby One More Time”:

“You have to understand that there’s nobody in the equation who stood to benefit by giving it to her straight.”

Let’s say that sad truth again: Nobody stood to benefit by giving it to her straight.

Why did Britney implode? Why do horrible singers try out on “American Idol”? Why did that now-canned WellPoint executive think he could propose to and dump 12 women in two years?

Because they were surrounded by people — or surrounded themselves with people — who had no qualms with keeping silent about uncomfortable truths.

But don’t gloat. Perhaps you’re not on television, but the same lesson applies. Do you do anything that would cause the people around you to shrink from telling you the truth? Is there a sensitivity you wear or an anger you nurture that tells potential allies to back away from certain criticisms?
Hebrews 10:24-25 instructs us, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” Life in community should mean life with people who are willing to challenge you, not life with people who just want to egg on your selfishness and sin, perhaps for their own benefit.

This is why it’s perilous to make fun of celebrities like Britney Spears. Given enough fame and fortune, too many of us would be in the same sad situation.

Ye Olde Urbanism gets boot in britches

A proposal to build a Medieval European village has gotten hogtied by modern Indiana regulations.

The people behind Simpler Times Village want to build a rural community with old-fashioned ideals — really olde — in green space in Madison County. From its Web site:

Can you imagine a storybook village in old world Europe? Have you ever traveled to Italy or Austria to see a community built before 1800? We are working to recreate such a place…

Simpler Times Village is unique because residents will be able to live, work and enjoy agriculture all in one place. You can open a bed and breakfast, own a simple vacation cabin or build a fine estate. You can have gardens and chickens in your backyard. …

But according to the Indianapolis Business Journal, the county commissioners are none too keen on allowing such a development encroach on agricultural areas.

If you look past the dreadful Thomas Kinkade aesthetics and the evangelical escapism, much of the goals of the village are actually quite laudable. Kevin of Urban Indy — who deserves the hat tip for my post — sums it up nicely:

(T)he idea is not terrible. They would have been built to incorporate small farms. The buildings and streetscapes are human-scaled. Also, the businesses would be locally owned.

The fact that this would have been a green field development gets a thumbs down, though. I suspect that a good chunk of people who move to these greenfield New Urbanist developments still drive to work. Public transit would be non-existent.

Exactly. Why not try to do something like this inside an existing city? Can the developers find a city innovative enough — or desperate enough — to relax some of the outdated suburban zoning strictures in a few city neighborhood blocks? This idea doesn’t need outdated architecture to work. It needs creative civic leaders, developers and potential residents who don’t mind walking — and don’t mind a few chickens.

The four saddest words

What are the four saddest words you might hear after church on Sunday?

“See you next week!”

What a depressing sentiment! We saints gather together every Sunday under one roof. We enter the very sanctuary of God together, we praise Him together, we receive the Word together and share Christ’s body and blood together. We are, in fact, knitted together as One Bride, as the very Body of Christ Himself.

Then, so often, we make no effort to reinforce our solidarity and community with one another between Sunday mornings.

“See you next week!”

That means I won’t invite you over for supper and you won’t try to find any common activity that we can share. I won’t see you at the store or at a coffeehouse. In fact, it means it’s our intention to live completely separate lives from one another, lives that touch for only a few hours a week out of the hundred hours a week we spend awake.

“See you next week!”

Don’t let those four words be the last ones you say to your brothers and sisters tomorrow. Try these instead:

“I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Come over for lunch!”

“Let’s get together soon.”

These sound so simple as to be too obvious. But we can build each other up only if we see each other more than once a week. Let’s clear our schedules for each other.

Clotheslines in a Good City?

So on the heels of the Grassroots Green event, I was reading through the Green Living Guide (which everybody should buy!) and noticed a small article promoting the drying of clothes on a clothesline instead of an electric (or gas) drier. I didn’t even realize, though I shouldn’t have been shocked, that many HOA’s, landlords, etc. have banned clothesline-drying on primarily aesthetic and property value grounds. But apparently, the resulting controversy is big enough as to make national news.

So the question is: should a good city — and her residents — encourage the unsightly but environmentally-friendly practice of clothesline-drying? Or promote a more “beautiful” city by mandating the more sightly, but less environmentally-friendly use of electric dryers?