|A Review of
Making Healthy Places:
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
Making Healthy Places is a superb collection of essays that explores how neighbors can work together in a variety of crucial ways to seek the health and well-being of their places. Richard Jackson observes in the book’s preface that:
The modern America of obesity, inactivity, depression, and loss of community has not “happened” to us; rather we legislated, subsidized, and planned it. Our taxes subsidized he highways that turned the downtowns of most American cities into no-man’s lands (and certainly no-child’s lands) and the countryside into sprawl. The elderly and those without the option of driving (the young, low-income or disabled) have often lacked the option of living in a lively town center because they have been unable to find affordable housing or needed services there. We can, if we choose, legislate, subsidize and place for health promotion and disease prevention.
The three editors of the volume are all doctors who are engaged in public health work, and particularly focused on health issues related to community design. After an introduction that defines what the editors mean by a healthy place, the remainder of the book is divided into four parts:
- The impact of community design on health
- Diagnosing and healing our built environments
- Strategies for Healthy Places
- Looking Outward, Looking Ahead
There’s a wealth of rich material here, all of which churches should heed attentively. I have sat with a number of churches recently that desired to seek the shalom (health and well-being) of their places, but didn’t have much of a sense of how to do so. Making Healthy Places, is a handbook that would be a superb place for churches to begin thinking about how to engage in the redemption of their places. I can think of nothing better for churches to do than to immerse themselves wholly in the work that this book describes, from using the gifts and skills of their members to work in these directions; to training up youth to be prepared to participate in this work; to energizing and organizing neighbors to participate in this work. For several years now, I have used the language of churches being catalysts of local culture, but yet have found a dearth of resources for helping us to imagine what engaging our places in this way might look like. Making Healthy Places, although it is not a theological work, is deeply theological in the vision of health that is seeking and is a book that not only must be read and discussed in churches, we must also allow it to shape our vision of what the mission of the church is in our particular places, and as such it is one of the most significant books that I’ve read this year!
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com