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.


8 comments on “In Which We Desire Sidewalks in the New Heavens and New Earth

  1. Nah…I don’t need to read books about the city. I live here. That’s enough.

  2. when was the last time you went downtown (driving through doesn’t count)?

  3. Does working there every day count?

  4. LOL…depends on what you want it to count for, I guess!

  5. I think this conversation has passed into the realm of the absurd. Not that that’s a bad place to be….

  6. not necessarily. how much involvement do you actually have in your city? go to any shows? hang out anywhere? how many neighbors do you know (like you know the folks at church), and how often do you spend time with them? where are your favorite places in Baltimore to go (do you have any)? do you actually live in the city, or do you just rattle around it in a giant hamster-ball?

    go ahead and read some of the books.

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