The ethics of where you live

Quote by Eric O. Jacobsen:

I believe that choosing to live in a neighbourhood that is mixed in income, mixed in use, and replete with inviting public spaces can be an important fundamental ethical decision. When we can walk from our home to the corner coffee shop or park with the realistic expectation of running into someone who is destitute in one way or another, we place ourselves in the uncomfortable realm of Christian decision making.

— From the article “Where Then Shall We Live? The traditional neighbourhood as a fundamental ethical choice” in Comment magazine

‘Good cities consist of good people.’

Cities do not consist of freeways, buildings, transit systems, houses, malls, sidewalks, hydro wires, sewers, water mains, snowplows, corporations or government.

Good cities consist of good people. Like a vibrant company, they tap their best people — those with intelligence, energy, integrity, goodwill and a large well of experience — to do the best things. With a critical mass of good people, all the other elements of urban living — transit, wealth, a healthy environment … the list goes on and on — fall into place.

The key to successful cities in this age of increasingly specialized labour demand and a slowly eroding petroleum economy is to attract topnotch people who can adapt to the fundamental changes occurring in our community now.

Read the entire Ken Gray column in the Ottawa Citizen here.

— Hat tip: Richard Florida

Philip Bess: Cities shaped by love

In an essay with the provocative title, “Bring me my arrows of desire: cities shaped by love,” Gayle Doornbos writes a review of Philip Bess’s book, “Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Sacred.”

For those who are unaware, Bess is a Notre Dame architecture professor who spoke to a Fort Wayne audience about urban design and sustainable development last month.

Doornbos begins her essay with dreams: Where do you dream of living?

Here are excerpts:

Bess’s gambit challenges us to reevaluate the current state of our cities, how we think about urbanism and the suburbs, and our visions of the good life. For him, a vision of the good life is paramount. It is not enough to merely have good design. Philip Bess argues that good city-building cannot be reduced to design. Good design aids flourishing and can reflect flourishing, but it cannot by itself create sense of community, a neighbourhood, or even a good city. …

… Bess’s work calls us to restore Christian thought about the city in a time when Christians have appropriately fought for justice in cities but neglected to develop sophisticated frameworks about the specific structure, design, policy, and theology that constitutes a good city. Finally, we must recapture the old Christian idea that architecture shapes the fabric of a city — it is not inconsequential to faith or to building community and place — belonging and identity in a broken world. Community, belonging, and cities must aspire to reflect this vision of good city life. “Our greatest cities,” writes Bess, “are products of love. Cities should be shaped and driven by the dream of a world made new.”

Read the essay here.

Also, Books & Culture magazine reviews his book here. Below is an excerpt:

Designs for a good urban experience, Bess explains, would take into consideration the ecological, economic, moral, and formal well-being of a neighborhood. Whether on the outskirts of a city or in the urban core, each neighborhood would enjoy “a walkable and mixed-use human environment wherein many if not most of the necessities and activities of daily human life are within a five- to ten-minute walk for persons of all ages and economic classes.” Such neighborhoods would embody the best social and aesthetic features of historic urban life, and to bring this vision to fruition would be to occasion human flourishing. Good urban planning is good theology.

Read the Books & Culture review here.

Photo courtesy of calm a llama down

“WHO-O-O is it?”

After seeing the title of this post and the video grab above, did you involuntarily say to yourself, in a tough New Yawk accent, “It’s the plumber. I’ve come to fix the sink”?

If you did, then you are the reason for this blog post.

In case you don’t know, the above picture is from an animated sketch featured on the old PBS children’s show, “The Electric Company.” (You can refresh your memory by watching the video on YouTube. And does the plumber really die at the end?)

In an earlier post titled “What creates community?” I said that shared stories create community, and that sharing happens when people experience the same happening. And although I edited it later, I originally said:

A group of individuals sitting at home watching the same show on separate televisions does not create community.

My dear wife read my post and gently took me to task. Not that unceasing television watching is an automatic good, but she reminded me that among people of our generation, growing up in the late ’70s, there is a certain kind of odd shared TV heritage.

In fact, all through the 20th century, there were different low-culture activities that you pretty much enjoyed alone — such as radio and TV shows, sports and movies — but then could talk about with your friends later.

And yes, books count too, Harry Potter fans.

As with any thing else, overuse of television cuts you off from friends, because you’re spending time that should be social time staring at the screen. But as my wife said, “Television actually can help you make connections with strangers.” Because then you have a shared experience with other people who root for the Colts, are addicted to “Lost” or still struggle with the hallucinogenic effects of watching too many Sid and Marty Krofft shows.

How to talk to strangers

Being nice to strangers is never easy and being polite in public never comes without some training. But it’s still shocking how incivility and rudeness have become so common even as technology makes communication easier.

Today was communication day at the YLNI Leadership Institute — led by Anthony Juliano of Asher Agency and the Soundbite Back blog. One topic that generated heat was the misuse of cell phones and texting devices while other people are nearby.

Stories of annoyance included people who blabbed on their phones in line at airports and colleagues who checked email on their BlackBerrys during meetings.

How can this be? Do they not see all the people standing around them?

Maybe not.

Whether out of fear or out of selfishness, Americans have created a culture in which we may meet only those people we choose to meet. We have less and less incidental contact with those around us.

If you live in a suburban home and work in a downtown building, you can complete your commute from bed to desk without meeting anyone you do not know. You can get into your car in your attached garage, drive in isolation with thousands of other motorists, find your space in the parking garage and walk across the skyway right into your office building. The first person you talk to is the same guy you see on the elevator every day.

So when we’re thrust into a group of strangers at a bank or coffee shop — when we don’t use the drive-through — many of us reach for the familiarity of our phone or BlackBerry. We have forgotten how to talk to strangers. We’re so used to being isolated that we can easily forget the real people standing right next to us.

For those of you who are guilty as charged, you need to practice civility. Push yourself into situations in which you have to talk to strangers. Here are some things I try to do:

  • Avoid drive-though windows.
  • Don’t use the auto-checkout lines at the grocery store.
  • Park on the street.
  • Turn off your phone and other devices when you are in meetings or other conversations.
  • Above all, whenever you can, walk instead of drive.

Leave comments with your ideas that nudge you into incidental contact with strangers.