New Urbanism and Christian Faith

Our small group just finished discussing Eric Jacobsen's _Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith_ (Brazos, 2003). Jacobsen makes a solid case for why Christians should be concerned about and dwell within urban spaces--not just as another place to "save souls," and not as a Saturday "outreach" activity, returning to suburban enclaves guarded by gates and massive garage doors. Rather, we are to _inhabit_ the city, actually live there, and "seek the welfare of the city."

The book is best when it is showing what's wrong with suburban sprawl (including the philosophical and quasi-theological underpinnings of this "American dream," showing the government policies--such as zoning--which foster it, and the market's vested interest in it). However, it's hard to know just how this would fly with readers who actually live in the suburbs. (Our small group is all drawn from within the city.)

The book also does a very good job of pushing us to be passionate about two very simple axioms: (1) walk more, and (2) buy local. Good discussions of what's wrong with a car-dominated culture and how we inhabit our cities differently when we walk or ride the bus. Also very good on resisting the lure of the big box stores and paying a little more to support local economies.

Jacobsen is more frustrating when it comes to some of the specifics of urban life. This is not to say he doesn't address the right issues or questions; he does--but I sometimes felt like he punted just when we got to really hard questions. Take gentrification, for example. Jacobsen basically concludes it's a good thing (albeit a kind of necessary evil, at the same time). He's not willing to go far enough in his critique of market economy (I think the only answer to gentrification is socialism).

There's lots in the book to like; the rest will certainly generate good conversation.

Our small group is now hoping to dive into David McCarthy's new book, _The Good Life_ (Brazos, 2004).