Downtown is not the only town

I’m thankful for businesses like Aptera Inc. who have decided to move to downtown Fort Wayne and support our urban core.

But downtown Fort Wayne isn’t the only urban business district around here. If you want to do business — or open a business — in a close-knit, walkable, multi-use community, you could also consider:

New Haven, pictured at top. The photo was taken at Broadway and Main streets during the downtown businesses’ Halloween celebration last year. It was packed!

Roanoke, above. The location of Joseph Decuis and Reusser Design, among others.

East State Village. A couple blocks long loaded with restaurants, a bakery, a library branch, a chocolatier and the Firehouse Theatre.

Waynedale. There’s a Big Boy and lots of small businesses lining Lower Huntington Road.

Wells Street. Several blocks of eclectic shops: Hyde Brothers bookstore, Mr. Wimps jewelry, a funeral home, a coffee shop, a bakery, a discount grocery and plenty of people milling around.

West Main Street. OK, this is my neighborhood, best known for Paula’s Seafood, O’Sullivan’s and Recovery Room Upholstery. But look more closely and you’ll find outdoors equipment, architects and even the SOMA art gallery.

I’m sure there are lots of other small business districts scattered around town. Any you’d care to mention? What do you like about them?

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

‘Urban excitement is possible close to home’

This comment by Michael Bates of BatesLine in Tulsa was too good to be ignored:

Two generations have been raised to see the tidy segments of the suburbs as normal and the city as a messy mix that needs sorting out. That’s starting to change, and a significant number of people have experienced the pleasures of urban living, either directly, or vicariously through TV shows like Seinfeld and Friends. (And it could be argued that the appealing depiction of urban life on those programs was made possible by Giuliani’s cleanup of New York in the ’90s.)

I think the starting point is for cities like Fort Wayne and Tulsa to create and preserve urban places for the many who already know they want to live there. As these areas thrive, others will see that urban excitement is possible close to home, not just on the East Coast or in Europe. Over time there may be enough demand to redevelop badly aging post-war suburban neighborhoods in a new urbanist fashion.

Politics still matters: You need councilors and planning commissioners with the courage and vision to approve a pilot project for form-based codes or special zoning with design guidelines to protect traditional neighborhood development from suburban-style redevelopment.

But mostly you need entrepreneurial types willing to reuse old buildings in traditional neighborhoods, and others who are willing to build new in a traditional style. Recreating a vital urban core will happen the same way it was destroyed: one building at a time.

— beautiful vintage photo of Fort Wayne posted to Flickr by Zach Klein

Philip Bess: What is a city for?

Now that I found my notes, I can make some hopefully intelligent comments about Philip Bess’s interesting, although two-hour long, lecture on Wednesday. And since it’s already late, I’ll make this an introduction to a series of short posts about his lecture and ideas.

But first, I must mention that it was too bad that his lecture tackled so much: Five distinct topics plus a prelude and postscript. Add that to the 20-minute delay thanks to a technical glitch, and it was no wonder many in the audience left before the panel discussion afterward.

Also, Bess’s PowerPoint slides were not as helpful as hoped because they consisted of so many small photos and so much small text. One photo or image per slide would have been easier to discern.

Bess spoke glowingly of Aristotle’s ideas of what makes a good city. And a main question Aristotle hoped to answer was: What is a city for? Bess summarized Aristotle’s answer as such:

The City exists to promote the good life — or the best life possible — for its citizens.

But what is the good life for human beings? Here’s an answer from the lecture:

The best life for human beings is the life of moral and intellectual excellence lived in community with others — arguably, in a city.

Bess said that one concept that makes a city look like a city is the use of background buildings and foreground buildings.

A city is made up of some prominent structures, such as courthouses, churches, statues and public institutions, that are shown their importance by their placement and their architecture. These are the foreground buildings, or the res publica. (See illustration at right.)

Other city buildings are more traditional block structures that can be very nice, but are not given the architectural prominence of the foreground buildings. These are the background buildings, or the res economica.

Together, these buildings form traditional city blocks, with the background buildings giving strong definition to the streets and squares.

Here is his definition of the formal order of cities:

A hierarchical network of blocks, through streets and squares, characterized by a reciprocal relationship between public spaces and more important and less important buildings.

Of course, most architecture schools would concentrate on teaching how to build foreground rather than background buildings, which makes Bess’s definition of a good city more controversial than it may seem.

There’s much more to add, but it will have to wait for the next post.

— Photo of the main piazza of Ravenna, Italy, by dolanh on Flickr

Great article: ‘Urban Paradox’

Today I have the pleasure of pointing you to an excellent summation of what we’re hoping to accomplish here at The Good City.

This article, called “Urban Paradox: Reconnecting Church and the City,” was published in byFaith magazine and written to a more general Christian audience, so it starts with a bedrock Biblical foundation:

Biblical Christianity is about land, about subways, cars, and high rises. It affirms God as Creator, and as sovereign over every bit of creation. Therefore our responsibility as stewards, as those who have been given dominion, is to safeguard God’s work, and His pleasure in it. Our concern is that God be pleased when He looks to our cities.

The authors of the article, Michael Van Pelt and Rob Joustra of the Work Research Foundation, discuss New Urbanism and how it’s difficult to encapsulate what it actually is. But still, it’s principles aren’t really new at all:

The concern of New Urbanism for community, whole development, and human flourishing is not merely the concern of the institutional church; it forms the matrix of what we Christians call “good news.” In many ways what is striking is not why municipal leaders and New Urbanists should look at churches as allies, but rather, why church leaders have been conspicuously absent from this dialogue. Can community be built from within the physical form of traditional towns without under-girding social structures? What part can churches play in New Urbanism and the revitalization of urban spaces?

Van Pelt and Joustra give the church three ways to answer those questions:

  • Befriend the stranger in the city
  • Help create human comfort in the city
  • Create sacred spaces that relate to the city

And in conclusion:

Urban renewal requires the kind of vision and action that churches and people of faith possess. It is an urban vision firmly entrenched in the knowledge of the creator God, acted out faithfully in response to His Word, with contextual reflection. There is almost no limit to the imaginative manifestations that such a church can take. But churches and Christians must begin to take this kind of earthy Christianity, which bespeaks such pertinence to architecture, community, and transit more seriously if they are to realize a vision of urban centers built and sustained for human flourishing and the glory of God.

Be sure to read the whole article.

Photo by Christine (bpc) on Flickr