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Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith (The Christian Practice of Everyday Life) Paperback – May 1, 2003
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Like Jane Jacobs, James Howard Kunstler, Ray Oldenburg, and other urban visionaries, Jacobsen sees the city as a hopeful place, where community, tradition, and beauty come together on a human scale--a vision that an eclectic mix of architects, city planners, and sociologists has recently promoted as the New Urbanism. Jacobsen offers a distinctly Christian perspective on this phenomenon, looking to the Bible to develop a theology of the city. He believes that Americans' love affair with the automobile has undermined the social fabric by offering a false promise of independence while contributing to the impersonal nature of much of American society. He discusses the dangers of urban sprawl, the soul-numbing architecture of the late twentieth century and its devastating effects on communal identity, and the lack of appropriate public space in American cities. Jacobsen has much to say about how we got into the present predicament and what to do to change it, and by resurrecting the notion of the "good" city, he proffers the conception of the city as a spiritual place. June Sawyers
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
About the Author
ERIC O. JACOBSEN is adjunct professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. He previously served as associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Missoula, Montana. Jacobsen is a member of the Congress for the New Urbanism.
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Part 1: Thinking About Our Cities - incudes a section on learning to see our cities, a theological approach.
Part 2: Markers of the city:
* Public spaces
* Mixed use, pedestrian scale
* Beauty, quality, and other 'nonessentials'
* Local economy and the permanence of place
* Critical mass and making friends
* Strangers and hospitality
Book includes a glossary, bibliography, and a draft charter for what Jacobsen described as a New Urbanism.
Jacobsen tackles the somewhat trendy topic of new urbanism, the idea of creating (or preserving) neighborhoods like some of us remember from our childhood, where it was possible to walk to the barbershop and stop for an ice cream cone along the way. Jacobsen goes to some length to connect this powerful idea to a sound biblical theology of the city. He makes the point (more than once) that the ultimate conusmation of human existence is described not as a garden--where it all started--but as a city. But not one to only give one side of the story, the author deals honestly with scriptures that show how cities also grew out of human vanity and pride. His arguments are well grounded in both reason and scripture, and he manages to find fault with both conservative evangelicals and mainline liberals, which I consider a plus.
The introduction invokes a powerful sense of community as the author describes a walk to a local coffee shop, and how the decision to relocate his church to the suburban edge of town would not only make such a walk impossible, but would at the same time disenfranchise the elderly, infirm and younger members of the congregation whose access to cars is limited.
In short, this book, as the title suggests, gives a superb overview of the most compelling New Urbanist ideas from a Christian perspective that is not biased toward liberal or conservative, but is biased toward a humane theology that cares about people and the cities they live in. Highly, highly recommended.
Jacobsen believes that to be a Christian means to be a city person. The author defines a city simply as something you know when you see it. All cities possess six identifiers, including public spaces.
In public spaces Christians can walk amongst and greet their fellow citizens. This is incarnational ministry. Without public spaces it is hard to build relationships.
In heaven we will be citi-zens or denizens of the city. Jerusalem is a city on earth that God is using for good.
So why do some people see cities as corrupting? Jacobsen points to three cities in the Bible that were troubled: Enoch, Babel and Ramses. Because of these examples some people seek an eden-like existence in the suburbs.
Jacobsen distinguished between Private Christians and Public Christians. Private Christians focus on the Great Commission and the state of the individual. Public Christians concentrate on caring for the needy through institutions. Neither group has really taken the physical forms of their cities very seriously over the past century. Albert Borgmann, author of Crossing the Postmodern Divide, provides that vision.
Jacobsen notes "We've given very little thought to the physical structure of our cities and how that provides a framework for the human relationships that go on in these places." The author provides a theology that seeks to rectify this situation: (1) learn to live out our discipleship to Christ in cities and (2) stewardship of the environment includes our built environment.
Jacobsen advocates for mixed use zoning which allows for some commercial uses and different types of residential uses to coexist. The result is incidental contact, community cohesion, less time in the car, more walking and more attractive neighborhoods.
In the eyes of the author the suburbs are not welcoming to strangers. It is in the city where strangers meet other strangers. Cities experience problems when civility is in short supply, neighborliness is not practiced and some segments of society are not recognized for their inherent worth. We need 24 hour cities and metro areas that share the LULUs, (Locally Undesirable Land Uses).
Finally, Jacobsen notes over 400 developments in the U.S. have followed the New Urbanist Guidelines for Traditional Neighborhood Design. (See Congress for the New Urbanism [...]). We should enjoy these new developments and our older cities which already embody them. This not revolutionary activity but a return to how cities used to be built, such as Geneva. The church, writes Jacobsen, has an important role to play in the new urbanist movement.