The Native Tourist
reformed/biblical observations on Christianity and culture

Tuesday, September 09, 2003
Blessed Are the Poor, For They Shall Have Nice Cities

"I live in a neighborhood that meets many of the conditions of the Traditional Neighborhood Design (TND) extolled by the New Urbanists. The buildings are laid out at a relatively high density, there is a good network of sidewalks for walking, and there are some lovely, public spaces and charming coffee shops within easy walking distance from my front door. I do love to walk to the park and the coffee shops and go there when I have time or money to spare. Where I really take advantage of the good sidewalks and the proximity of our houses is when I pop over to a neighbor’s to borrow a tool or an ingredient or to ask for help with picking up and moving some furniture. As much as I enjoy these little exchanges with my neighbors, if I had more disposable income, I would probably keep a better stock of food on hand, purchase all the tools that I need, and not worry about the twenty-five dollar delivery fee for furniture. I have come to realize that one of the things that makes Missoula a hospitable urban environment is that it is made up of people who have to get along because they need each other."

-- Eric Jacobsen, Author of Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith (I found out about his essay in Markets and Moralisty on Seaside and new urbanism on Gideon Strauss' blog)

Seaside, Florida, which nearly all card-carrying new urbanists celebrate as the exemplar of what cities can and should be, turns out to be nothing more than a very aesthetic, finely crafted stageset for the super rich (ironically, Seaside was the utopian real-life set for the movie Truman Show.) As a mostly vacant vacation resort with house prices looming at a million dollars or more, Jacobsen found out that there no thriving community there - despite the sidewalks, front porches, village greens and quaint shops and galleries.

Although formal/organizational and aesthetic factors contribute to the life of a city, it is the people who really matter. Do the the citizans care about community at large and really want to take the time and effort to shape their lives so that they regularly interact with others, or do they want to hang out alone on their back decks and be numbed by television in their family rooms? Give me a group of people who really value community, and they will find a way to make it work, even in the most banal suburban sub-division.