In Which We Desire Sidewalks in the New Heavens and New Earth

Moreover, we have every confidence that we will get them.

In Comment magazine’s June 2007 “Summer Reading” issue, a gentleman named Eric O. Jacobsen contributed a list of books on Christianity and Urbanism which you best pick up. I pass a few of them along with short excerpts from Mr. Jacobsen’s longer blurbs. Again, if you don’t subscribe to Comment, go sign up now.

Also, Jacobsen maintains a site called Sidewalks in the Kingdom: Resources for Christian New Urbanists which you should check out. I have added a permanent link on the sidebar under “Sidewalks”.

OK, the books:

1. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs.

I learned to love the city from Jacobs with her eyes to see “the ballet of street life” while trained experts could only comprehend the city as rationally organized blobs on a zoning map.

2. Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream by Duany, Speck, and Zyberk.

These pioneers of the New Urbanist movement spent the last few decades leading a renegade group of architects and planners who in one way or another rejected the post-war suburban neighborhoods and urbanism…They possess the clarity of insight to ask whether the suburban experiment has delivered on its lofty promises, and whether its existence has really justified scrapping thousands of years of human wisdom embedded in traditional urban forms in favor of its seductive charms.

3. The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition by James Howard Kunstler.

Kunstler is both hilarious and spot-on accurate in his observations about contemporary North American Life…In The City in Mind, Kunstler…develops the notion that the ability to create quality urban environments is an important litmus test for any civilization. He does this with a series of eight case studies ranging from Atlanta, “this giant hairball of a thirteen-county demolition derby,” to Paris which embodies the difference between a “city worth caring about and one that is not.”

4. Great Streets by Allan B. Jacobs.

After about fifty years of slavishly accepting Le Corbusier’s rash dismissal of streets for anything but high-speed automobile traffic, we are once again recognizing that a requisite component for a truly great city is great streets. Some of the most significant public spaces ina city are to be found on its streets. Alan Jacobs’s treatment is a tribute to Great Streets, and a serious study of some of the best-loved streets in the world.

5. Global City Blues by Daniel Solomon

As a penitent formerly modernist architect, Daniel Solomon is the perfect guide to the waves of modernist hubris that nearly killed the city during the second half of the twentieth century…Most seasoned practitioners of the recent urban renaissance are self-avowed pragmatists and polemic apologists for the movement. Solomon may be more of a poet at heart and as such he may provide helpful inroads to the movement for a theological discussion of “creational norms.”

6. The Good City and the Good Life: Renewing the American Community by Daniel Kemmis.

Daniel Kemmis maintains that focusing our political attention exclusively on the national scene can only fall short of our expectations, and we will eventually become jaded. In the Good City and the Good Life, Kemmis recommends a return to the city as a context for human thriving and for rediscovering the dignity of political life.

7. The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community by Ray Oldenburg.

The notion that we need a place to hang out that is not our workplace nor our home helps to explain the success of places like Starbucks and Barnes and Noble…Ray Oldenburg anticipated this phenomenon and coined the term “third place”…Oldenburg helps us place this phenomenon in a wider context and he helps us to better understand the significance of this rediscovered impulse to a sociability…We learn what is appropriate and inappropriate public behaviour by spending time in coffee shops and other public places where we receive instant feedback on our public behaviour.

8. Until Justice and Peace Embrace: the Kuyper Lectures for 1981 Delivered at the Free University of Amsterdam by Nicholas Wolterstorff.

Wolterstorff understands that for most people, beauty in the city is found in the spaces between the buildings. From this perspective a beautiful city is a city in which the streets feel like outdoor hallways that invite us to explore.

In Which We Are Momentarially Intrigued by Vogue

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The Above magazine arrived at my home as so many things do, and I remarked to my wife as I surreptitiously shifted it from the coffee table to the magazine rack “That is a terrible cover. Looks like King Kong.” Which indeed it does.

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This thing is, aesthetically, a disaster. The photographer should be drawn and quartered, and the editor summarily sacked. And predictably, it has stirred up a bit of controversy over “racial stereotypes” and whatnot. Now I wouldn’t normally give this sort of thing a second thought, but that cover has stuck in my head over the last few days. Couldn’t figure out why, until Buddha connected the dots for me:

The cover also closely resembles this bit of United States recruitment propaganda from the Great War which I had shown to my ninth grade European history class just two weeks ago.

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In Which We are Misspoken To

This BBC article is a great analysis of Hillary Clinton’s ‘clarification’ of her story about her visit to Bosnia. The ‘lying’ (that’s what we call it around these parts) doesn’t surprise me a bit (nor, I would imagine, anybody else): What gets me is the stupidity and hubris of this particular lie: Her arrival in Bosnia was a photo-op, complete with welcoming committee, cute little girl reading poetry, and cameras. Big cameras, like news cameras. Could it be that some folks in Washington still are not aware of the implications of digital media and the internet?

The reality is that Hilary needs to beef up her foreign policy credentials. Fine, so does Barak (though you could argue that his simply being male makes this a slightly smaller weakness for him). But why not just tell the actual Bosnia story? Not perhaps a huge world-changing bit of foreign diplomacy, but perfectly respectable and a job well done, I suppose. The fictitious sniper-bullets were unnecessary and speak volumes about the Clinton campaign’s mounting desperation.

Jeremiah who? Stay on topic, Hilary: We want to hear about Bosnia again.

In Which We Opine without Qualifiers

Why should a Christian defend the concept of Capitalism as if it were God’s economic system? I ask without guile and without an alternative drum to beat. It bothers me that most conservative Christians treat any questioning of capitalist assumptions with the knee-jerk violence commonly reserved for blasphemy.
And yet, “pure capitalism” requires one to reject in one way or another the law and the prophets, the love of God and Neighbour.
A few simple theses I would like to start with.

– “Efficiency” should not be a goal, nor does the abstracted concept bear any moral quality in itself: It is neither good nor ill, but rather a qualifying descriptor, like ‘beautiful’ or ‘green’ which may be judged only by it’s context.

– Likewise, power and the acquiring thereof are not goals, they are tools for service of others.

– Power as such is the desire of Satan, and the efficient means of acquiring it his first, last, and greatest temptation.

– The ‘survival of the fittest’ is a fallen reality which should appall Christians wherever they see it manifested, whether amongst the animals in the jungle or on Wall Street. An inefficient sacrifice of power on behalf of the ‘unfit’ is the gospel, but antithetical to the capitalist model.

In Which Wisdom comes out your Speakers

The good folks at WRF” sent me the latest Think lecture, by the always wonderful Calvin Seerveld. It is entitled “Cities as a place for public artwork: a GLOCAL approach”, but the role of art in the public sphere is only the beginning. In the process of laying the foundations for his thoughts on public art, Dr. Seerveld outlines in broad strokes some of the moral underpinnings for a redemptive understanding of economics and community. You can (and should) download the lecture here (think #15). Don’t neglect to look at the urban artwork gallery (from the slide show which Dr. Seerveld used at the lecture, I assume).

This particular lecture is a part of the Stained Glass Urbanism project. In light of Revelation 21:10 – 22:5, this is something we all ought to be actively interested in, but I think will be particularly exciting and encouraging to those living in metropolitan areas. Listen, read, and then do.

In Which We Make No Home for Freaks

First Things, a journal of religion, culture, and public life (as its byline states), published an excellent article in their On the Square: Observations and Contentions section entitled
Worth Dying For by Richard John Neuhaus. This is something you should read.

Years ago, Christopher Lasch wrote that the reason we no longer have freak shows at county fairs is not because we are more sensitive and compassionate but because we have created, or aspire to create, a world that has no place for freaks. I regularly pass on the way to work the New York center for cerebral palsy. It is both touching and inspiring to see caretakers gently helping hundreds of children—their eyes rolling, limbs flailing, and grunting speech—getting in and out of the buses that transport them to the center. Prenatal testing and the unlimited abortion license will make sure that there is not another generation to burden us with the need for such caring.