Archives For Community development

 

What is your testimony?

A Feature Review of

Where the Cross Meets the Street: What Happens to the Neighborhood When God is At the Center
Noel Castellanos

Paperback: IVP Books, 2015
Buy now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

 

Reviewed by David Swanson

 

What is your testimony? The question might sound dated, but the sentiment behind it has been important to a wide variety of American Christians for a long time. The before and after of conversion to Jesus is mixed with one’s narrative arc – some more dramatic than others – to create a form that is instantly recognizable in churches of distinct denominations, races, and styles of worship. Increasingly there is a second conversion that follows the first. If the first conversion is accomplished by believing the good news of Jesus, identifying with the justice priorities of Jesus’ kingdom marks the second. Like the first conversion, the second has its own testimony.

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“Liberating Parks…
And Bringing them Back to the People”

A review of
Public Parks: The Key to Livable Communities.

By Alexander Garvin.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Public Parks: The Key to Livable Communities.
By Alexander Garvin.

Hardback: Norton, 2010.

Buy now: [ Amazon ]

PUBLIC PARKS - Alexander GarvinAs one who has been experimenting for several years now with urban naturalism, I have a deep appreciation for greenspaces in which the abundant life of creation is not quite as enslaved to the best laid plans of humanity.  Thus, I was excited to hear about the release of Alexander Garvin’s book Public Parks: The Key To Livable Communities.  Starting with the definition of a park as “public open spaces that are available to all citizens free of charge,” Garvin proceeds to narrate the relatively brief history of parks (according to this definition), and to lay out a basic philosophy of parks that takes into consideration such factors as site selection, stewardship and finance.

Garvin’s account of parks is centered around the lives and work of two key figures: Fredrick Law Olmsted and Robert Moses.  Olmsted, not only was the co-designer of New York’s Central Park, but the firm he founded would eventually design and create roughly six thousand of the earliest North American parks, an undertaking that spanned the continent from coast to coast.  Although Robert Moses is most recognized as an urban planner who fought to modernize New York City and who inaugurated several key expressways across that city, he perhaps is equally significant for his quarter-century of work as New York City Parks Commissioner (1934-1960).  Olmsted and Moses were undoubtedly chosen not only for their noble stature in the history of North American parks development, but also because they both approached the task of park development as part of a larger strategy of urban planning, an approach to which Garvin is apparently sympathetic and also one that was perhaps the greatest detriment to his account of parks (as we will explore later in this review).  Before I dive too deeply into a critique of this work, allow me to emphasize that Public Parks is an elegant book, well-designed with many large, color photographs that breathe life into Garvin’s streamlined narration of the history, meaning and operation of parks.  Additionally, the book serves as a good introduction to the history of parks and to the basic ideas related to the development and maintenance of parks. Continue Reading…

 

“Reimagining
Poverty and Development”

A review of
Relationality

By Claudio Oliver.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Relationality
Claudio Oliver.
Pamphlet: Relational Tithe, 2010.

Buy now: [ Relational Tithe ]

Claudio Oliver- RELATIONALITYClaudio Oliver, a pastor and community developer from Curitiba, Brazil stands in a rich tradition of recent Christian social critics that includes Ivan Illich, John McKnight and Jacques Ellul.  Indeed, my very first exposure to Claudio’s work was stumbling upon an online video of him defending his graduate thesis on Ivan Illich, Leo Tolstoy and Paulo Freire (HERE, but be forewarned, it’s in Portuguese).  Oliver’s first English publication, a pamphlet entitled Relationality, has recently been published by Relational Tithe.  This little gem of a pamphlet follows Ivan Illich’s and John McKnight’s critiques of poverty and development (especially Illich’s Toward a History of Needs; read an essay that basically summarizes the book here), but does so in a clear and narrative style that is simple to read and thoroughly engaging.  One of Oliver’s main points here is that “[Poverty] is not fundamentally not the lack of things or of stuff, but rather the lack of friends.  To be poor is to have no friends” (14).

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“God’s Own Passion
for the Neighborhood

A Review of
Journey to the Common Good.
by Walter Brueggemann.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.


Journey to the Common Good.
Walter Brueggemann.
Paperback: WJK Books.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

JOURNEY TO THE COMMON GOOD - BrueggemannOne of the things that we have worked really hard to do as Englewood Christian Church over the past two decades is to gather our neighbors for conversation on imagining what the common good for our neighborhood might look like.  So when the city of Indianapolis declared our neighborhood and the surrounding ones as a “redevelopment zone” several years ago, we played a key role in gathering neighbors to craft – over the course of a year – a specific plan for how we wanted to see our neighborhood improved in a way that would minimize gentrification and not drive out the neighbors who presently live here.  We work with our neighbors in this way because we believe that God is at work, redeeming creation, and that this work of redemption unfolds primarily through the faithfulness of church communities who imagine and discern God’s redemptive work in their specific places.  With these convictions and the experiences of our church community at the forefront of my mind, I was very eager to read Walter Brueggemann’s ideas in his newest book Journey to the Common Good.

I have read a number of Brueggemann’s previous works and have resonated with the basic points of his theological vision as expressed in these books.  In particular, I have a deep appreciation for his emphasis on the people of God (as a community) in God’s redemptive work, on the conversational relationships between God and the people of God (see his recent book An Unsettling God), on the importance of imagination in discerning God’s leading (see The Prophetic Imagination), and finally, on the significance that he places on land and place in the mission of God (see The Land).  All of these convictions are ones that are essential to our life together at Englewood Christian Church.

At the beginning of Journey to the Common Good, Brueggemann observes:  “We face a crisis about the common good [today] because there are powerful forces at work among us to resist the common good, to violate community solidarity, and to deny a common destiny.  Mature people, at their best, are people who are committed to the common good that reaches beyond private interest, transcends sectarian commitments, and offers human solidarity” (1).  From these initial convictions onward, I knew that this was going to be an important book.  Brueggemann structures the book around three Old Testament stories that he believes are essential to discerning our way forward as churches today toward the common good of God’s redemption.  These stories are that of the Exodus, of Jeremiah (and of Solomon and the Jerusalem establishment that Jeremiah would prophetically decry) and finally of Isaiah.

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Here is a fabulous video which serves both as an excellent introduction to Eric Sanderson’s new book Mannahatta (to be reviewed by Brent Aldrich in next week’s issue of the ERB), and as an overview of social artist Fritz Haeg’s Lenape Edible Estate project in Manhattan (Fritz Haeg’s book Edible Estates was named as one of our Best Books of 2008.)  You won’t want to miss this captivating video.
(~15 minutes long)

Mannahatta: A Natural History of NYC.
Eric Sanderson.

Hardback: Abrams, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn.
Fritz Haeg.

Paperback: Metropolis Books, 2008.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

The Story of Mannahatta and the Lenape Edible Estate from fritz haeg on Vimeo.

 

“Examining Sustainability
on New Terms”

A Review of
Green Metropolis:
Why Living Smaller, Living Closer,
and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability
.
By David Owen.

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.

Green Metropolis:
Why Living Smaller, Living Closer,
and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability
.
David Owen.

Hardback: Riverhead, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

GREEN METROPOLIS - David OwenDavid Owen’s new book Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability begins a little differently than those of us who read books with titles like this might expect. Up front, Owen posits that “by the most significant measures, New York [City] is the greenest community in the Unites States” (2). Clearly, this book intends to examine sustainability on new terms, the most significant are listed simply in the subtitle, living smaller and closer, and driving less. The heart of New York City’s ‘greenness,’ in fact, is proximity, population density, and mixed-use or diversified neighborhoods, all of which have echoes of Jane Jacobs’s work throughout.

To begin to make the paradigm-shift of viewing cities’ density as the strongest mark of sustainability, some numbers and statistics are enlightening. For instance, much has been made of a number like the “1 percent of all greenhouse gasses produced by the United States” are generated in New York City. This may seem like an astounding number, but a large part of Owen’s work is to put statistics like this in context of the 2.7 percent of the country’s population that lives in NYC, “meaning that its carbon footprint is already remarkably low in comparison with that of other American communities” (17).

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A Brief Review of

Farm City: The Education of An Urban Farmer.
Novella Carpenter.

Hardback: The Penguin Press, 2009.
Buy Now:  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

FARM CITY - Novella CarpenterFull of grit and wit, Novella Carpenter’s Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer is one of the best pieces of writing that I have read this year.  She begins, memorably:

I have a farm on a dead-end street in the ghetto.  My back stairs are dotted with chicken turds.  Bales of straw come undone in the parking area next to my apartment.  I harvest lettuce in an abandoned lot. I awake in the mornings to the sound of farm animals mingled with my neighbor’s blaring car alarm.

Having long been intrigued by the idea of urban farming and having dabbled in it a bit myself and with friends over the last few years, I knew that Farm City was a book that I had to read.  What came as a surprise, however, was how mesmerized I became by the honest, raw beauty of Carpenter’s writing.  Readers should be forewarned that this is not a how-to book (even the most passionate of my urban farming friends admits that raising pigs in the city, as Carpenter eventually comes to do, is unfathomable in most cities in the U.S.).  The book unfolds through three main storylines, all of which revolve around Carpenter’s raising of a certain type of animal: turkeys (intended for Thanksgiving dinner, although only one survives), rabbits and finally the almost unimaginable, pigs.  Interspersed throughout these primary stories are tales of her raising chickens and bees and growing a host of fruits and vegetables, both familiar and exotic.

Carpenter’s urban world is full of vibrant characters, both humans and farm animals.  It is not insignificant that Carpenter, her boyfriend Bill and this host of colorful characters inhabit a neighborhood of Oakland known as GhostTown, which she describes with her typical humor:

…[W]e discovered that our neighborhood was called GhostTown, for all its long-abandoned businesses, condemned houses, and overgrown lots.  The empty lot next to our house was not rare: there was one, sometimes two on every block.  And through the vacant streets rolled GhostTown tumbleweeds: the lost hairpieces of prostitutes. Tumbleweaves. (11)

The abandonment of this place is a key factor in the narrative of Farm City, creating in a sense a clean slate on which Carpenter and friends can reimagine urban life.  One of the book’s most striking examples of this reimagination is Carpenter’s stumbling into the opportunity to learn Italian-style meat-processing (salami, prosciutto, etc.) from Chef Christopher Lee of Berkeley’s swanky Italian eatery, Eccolo.  She meets Lee after she is caught plundering of Eccolo’s dumpster in search of feed for her ravenous pigs.  They strike up a friendship and Lee eventually helps her to process much of the meat from her pigs.

While Carpenter’s superb writing will be savored by readers of all sorts, her stories of urban farming will be an inspiration to those of us who daily imagine the transformation of abandoned urban places and who are convicted that a return to the basics of a locally-oriented agricultural existence is key to that transformation (even if we will never be so bold as to raise pigs in the city!).

 

A Brief Review of

Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability.
Michael K. Stone / Center for Ecoliteracy.

Paperback: Watershed Media, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

To understand what it means to deschool society, and not just reform the educational establishment, we must [focus] on the hidden curriculum of schooling…  Even the best of teachers cannot entirely protect his students from it.  Inevitably, this hidden curriculum of schooling adds prejudice and guilt to the discrimination which a society practices against some of its members and compounds the privilege of others with a new title to condescend the majority.  Just as inevitably, this hidden curriculum serves as a ritual of initiation into a growth-oriented consumer society for rich and poor alike.

— Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society.

On one level, Michael Stone’s recent book Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability is an excellent and innovative book that compellingly tells the stories of schools that are finding creative ways to shift their curricula in the direction of sustainability.  Stone begins the book:

There is a bold new movement under way in school systems across North America and around the world.  Educators, parents and students are remaking K-12 education to prepare students for the environmental challenges of the coming decades.  They are discovering that guidance for living abundantly on a finite planet lies, literally, under their feet and all around them – in living soil, food webs and water cycles, energy from the sun, and everywhere that nature reveals her ways.  Smart by Nature [seeks] to find solutions to problems of sustainable living, make teaching and learning more meaningful and create a more hopeful future for people and communities (3).

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“The Transformative Love
of a Place”

A Review of
Wrestling with Moses:
How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s
Master Builder and Transformed the American City
.

By Anthony Flint.

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.

Wrestling with Moses:
How Jane Jacobs Took on NewYork’s
Master Builder and Transformed the American City
.

Anthony Flint.
Hardcover: Random House, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Wrestling with Moses - Anthony FlintWriting in 1980, Michel de Certeau characterizes two uses of the space of the city; one is the “panoramic-city” of the “space planner urbanist, city planner or cartographer” who have views of the city afforded by high places, where the details of life are no longer visible. Conversely, “the ordinary practitioners of the city live ‘down below’…they walk – an elementary form of this experience of the city.” These two images are useful when thinking about two influential figures who have come to represent contrasting ends of city planning in recent history, Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. Just a glimpse at the cover of Anthony Flint’s new book Wrestling With Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City show Jacobs on the sidewalk, and there is Moses, looming large above a table-sized model of Manhattan, new highways bisecting it.

That both Jacobs and Moses made significant contributions to urban redevelopment while living in New York City in the 1930s – 1970s brings into focus their opposing approaches to neighborhoods in two large projects proposed by Moses and blocked by Jacobs. Wrestling With Moses centers around Washington Square Park and Jacob’s home in Greenwich Village, and the later proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway (Lomex) in what is now Soho. First narrating biographies of Jacobs and Moses, Flint characterizes the two visions for city development as practiced by Jacobs and Moses best when they come up directly against each other.

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“The End of Preservation?”

A Review of
The Once and Future New York:
Historic Preservation
and the Modern City.

by Randall Mason.

 Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.

 

The Once and Future New York:
Historic Preservation and the Modern City.

Randall Mason.
Paperback: U of Minn. Press, 2009.
Buy now:   [ Amazon ]

 

Belonging to a church community that has been rooted in one place in Indianapolis for over one hundred years, it is almost daily evident what William Faulkner had in mind when writing, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Stories are told and retold through the lens of our particular place and people, tied in many ways to a larger context of geography. Through these acts of remembering, attached to a specific place, we participate in developing – albeit not as intentionally – as what Randall Mason calls a “memory infrastructure.” Mason’s new book The Once and Future New York: Historic Preservation and the Modern City explores the roots of modern historic preservation back to the decades around 1900, suggesting that the creation of this memory infrastructure is the impetus for preservation:

Memory sites were not an end in themselves. They were envisioned as means to an end – a way to reform urban society and shape civic identity by exposing citizens to a memory-rich environment. Reformers and civic leaders sought stability to counter the gathering sense of cultural dislocation and the loss of memory in this period, and historical memory lent this appearance of stability to culture (239).

 

    Focusing on the histories of three locations in New York – St. John’s Chapel, City Hall Park, and the Bronx River Parkway – Mason establishes preservation as a discipline with a history of its own, and one tied in many ways to supporting the further development of cities: “[Preservationists] lobbied not against development but for a different kind of development: not to halt change, but to modify or design it, to produce a ‘Greater New York’ at once more beautiful, more efficient, and more clearly rooted in its own past” (xv). The ways in which the “memory infrastructure” is developed in each case study is telling of the complexities with which preservation is practiced.

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