Eric Jacobsen draws the distinction between the American version of freedom — escapism — and the Biblical definition — liberation:
The problem with escapism as a way to deal with problems … is that it cannot go on forever. This is painfully obvious to anyone who has bought a suburban house on the very edge of town only to find a year or so later another development going up where there once was green space. Not only does this kind of development prove personally disappointing, it also builds resentment among people toward their neighbors for destroying their dreams. …
If we are inconvenienced or annoyed by living, working, and playing in the company of our fellow human beings, perhaps we need liberation from our selfishness and our willfulness rather than a massive home on a two-acre lot (soon to be surrounded by other massive homes on two-acre lots). Living in closer proximity to our neighbors forces us to make compromises of our needs and wants — sometimes allowing us to learn the difference between the two.
— from “Sidewalks in the Kingdom” by Eric O. Jacobsen
Matthew Pipkin of Common Grounds Online has recently written a good ‘n’ short introduction to New Urbanism and its appeal to Christians.
He mentions two things in particular: how New Urbanist ideas address a wide variety of pressing concerns in community living, and how these ideas are mostly old ideas.
But New Urbanism has one glaring blind spot:
It fails to recognize the reality of the Fall. Many New Urbanists believe that if we merely build better places, community will automatically flourish. … What they don’t understand is that man is sinful, and that even in the most pristine neighborhood we will still be selfish, untrusting and will seek our own good over the good of the community.
Read the short essay here.
A visitor by the name of Rachel asks:
I’m very interested in seeing that the two of you have teamed up for what looks to be a very interesting blog on the crossroads of urban planning and religion. I know that both of you have deep Christian convictions, so I am wondering how you anticipate treating those who post comments and view your blog who may come from another religious perspective?
So here was my response (and Rachel gave permission to post her question here):
Hi and thanks for writing. That’s a really good question, and you’ve inspired me to find a metaphor that describes how we do things around here.
I’m treating this blog like my front porch. It’s similar to setting up a table and a few Adirondack chairs and inviting neighbors and passers-by for coffee and conversation.
In this situation, no way can I expect everyone to agree with me. Some may be Christians who disagree with my conclusions. Some may be non-Christians who agree with my conclusion but don’t like my reasons. But I am confident enough in my God to know that I can listen to my neighbors and love them and not beat them over the head with my 20-pound study Bible. At least not on the first visit.
And those who drive by and throw eggs will not be treated gently.
And like I told her in a follow-up email, if I can’t be neighborly on this web site, I have no business writing about neighborhoods!
If a developer told you he was going to build a gas station on the property behind your house, after you were told by the home builder that the property’s zoned for an office park, what would you do?
Some residents of Water Song addition near the corner of Coldwater and Union Chapel roads want to fight it tooth and nail. Resident Donald Bengel, in a letter to the editor in The News-Sentinel, says he may be willing to go to court over the matter. (You can read his letter on the continuation page.)
But it’s very difficult for any government to kill a new business in cold blood, especially one on a busy corner. It’s likely the challenge would go nowhere.
Instead, why not consider the long-term needs of the neighborhood, and fight for that?
Like most carved-from-the-cornfield developments, Water Song is 100 percent residential, cut off from any business or service. Perhaps there are sidewalks, but there are precious few reasons to walk them.
Run out of milk? Drive to the store. Want a cup of coffee? Drive to a coffee shop.
But if the developer of the gas station is encouraged to serve the neighborhood it borders, he could do the following:
- Build a sidewalk between the neighborhood and store, for walking, biking and skateboarding — and include a bike rack.
- Point the outdoor lights downward.
- Stock essentials, such as milk, bread, butter and batteries.
- Construct the side of the gas station facing the neighborhood not as a blank wall, but with a nice little coffee house with plenty of windows, such as a Higher Grounds.
- Be sure there isn’t a drive-through lane or any other traffic between the store and the neighborhood, for safety.
Come at the developer as enemies, and you’ll get a losing battle. But come at him as potential customers, and he very well may build a place that would serve your neighborhood rather than injure it.
Photo of Water Song addition from Google Maps. See the jump for the full text of the letter to the editor referenced.
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