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What is the most crying need of the church in America today?

Here is how Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, answers the question, emphasizing the importance of cities:

I’m throwing in with Jim Boice on this one (cf. his Two Cities: Two Loves.)

The evangelical church must stay true to its biblical foundations, and it must maintain and enhance the effectiveness of its expository preaching, the holiness of its members, the ‘thickness’ of its counter-cultural community, the fervor of its evangelism. But if it doesn’t learn how to do this in our biggest cities then we don’t have much hope for our culture.

If our cities are largely pagan while our countryside is largely Christian, then our society and culture will continue to slide into paganism. And that is exactly what is happening. Christians strengthen somewhat away from the cities and they have made some political gains, but that is not effecting cultural products much. It is because in the center cities (NYC, Boston, LA, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Washington DC) the percentages of people living and working there who are Christians are minuscule.

Jim Boice proposed that evangelical Christians need to live in the major cities at a higher percentage than the population at large (See Two Cities, p.163ff.) Currently 50% of the U.S. population live in urban areas (and 25% lives in just the 10 largest urban areas.) Boice proposes that evangelicals should be living in cities in at least the same percentages or more. As confirmation of Boice’s belief consider how much impact both the Jewish and the gay communities have had on our culture. Why? Though neither is more than 3-4% of the total population, they each comprise over 20% of the population of Manhattan (and in other center cities. )

So we have two problems. First, evangelicals (especially Anglos) in general are quite negative about U.S. cities and city living. Second, you can’t ‘do church’ in exactly the same way in a city as you do it elsewhere, not if you want to actually convert hard-core secular people to Christianity. There are churches that set up in cities without adapting to their environment. Ironically, they can grow rather well anyway in cities by just gathering in the young already-evangelicals who are temporarily living in the city after college. But that is not the way to make the cities heavily Christian-which is the crying need today.

— Hat tip: Justin Taylor. Photo by Francois Schnell

10 reasons cities are works of art

The Work Research Foundation‘s Comment magazine published a little point of view piece called “Public Arts in the City: with reference to Chicago.”

Not only does the author — Clinton Stockwell, the executive director of the Chicago Semester — give ten positive reasons for considering cities as works of art, he peppers his short essay with great quotes, including these:

“Place is space with historical meanings, where some things have happened which are now remembered and provide continuity and identity across generations.” — Walter Brueggemann

“Art points out to the Calvinist both the still visible lines of the original plan, and what is even more, the splendid restoration by which the Supreme Artist and Master-Builder will one day renew and enhance even the beauty of His original creation.” — Abraham Kuyper in Lectures on Calvinism

Read the essay here.

photo of Chicago’s Michigan Avenue by kitchaboy on Flickr

Philip Bess: Good cities are like pizzas

During his lecture last week, Philip Bess mentioned a tasty metaphor for good urban living.

Comparing a city to a pizza is the idea of Leon Krier, whom Bess calls the most influential traditional urbanist of our time. As Bess says in his book, “Till We Have Built Jerusalem”:

A neighborhood is to the larger city what a slice of pizza is to the whole pie: a part that contains within itself the essential qualities and elements of the whole. In the case of a city made of neighborhoods, this means that a neighborhood contains within walkable proximity to one another places to live, work, play, learn and worship.

Within the legal boundaries of a postwar suburb, by contrast, the elements of the “pizza” are physically separated and at some distance from one another — as if the crust is here, the sauce over there, the cheese someplace else, and the pepperoni way out yonder.

Bess was careful to point out that such pizza-like, mixed-use neighborhoods do not eliminate the use of cars or public transportation. Maybe you live in one neighborhood and work in the next. But mixed-use neighborhoods do eliminate the necessity of driving for every single need that arises.

One of the panel members said that the average suburbanite makes 14 automobile trips every day. Imagine living in a neighborhood in which you could cut that number in half. That would allow you to not only save money on gas, but also to stay more connected to your own neighborhood — and your own neighbors.

— drawing by Leon Krier, from Philip Bess’ “Till We Have Built Jerusalem”

Looking back at Southtown Mall

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon the Web site deadmalls.com, which chronicles the sad stories of decaying retail centers.

In this article, the featured mall is Fort Wayne’s own now-demolished Southtown Mall.

The commentary includes a short history submitted by a Fort Wayne resident and a kind of walking tour made by the Web site’s owner in 2001. You can also view a gallery of 25 photos taken in 2001 of Southtown Mall (Note: photos 26 through 33 are of a different mall).

You can also see many more exterior and interior photos of Southtown Mall in a photo gallrey at aroundfortwayne.com.

I find it amazing that such a spookily vacant mall was open to the public for such a long time after it was obviously dead. Whatever you think of Wal-Mart, it sure beats what it replaced.

I’ve heard Southtown was successful for the first half of its life. But was there anything about the mall that doomed it to fail?

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