Reading Guides, VOLUME 10

Ten Essential Books for Urban Christians!

I recently finished reading Richard Florida’s important book THE NEW URBAN CRISIS. While I didn’t have a chance to write my review this week (watch for it on our website in the next couple of weeks), I thought that this would be a good time to recommend books in a similar vein that should be essential reading for Christians trying to understand the urban places in which they live and/or worship.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it will set readers on an excellent trajectory for understanding urban places. 

The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Jane Jacobs

Random House, 1961

A direct and fundamentally optimistic indictment of the short-sightedness and intellectual arrogance that has characterized much of urban planning in this century, The Death and Life of Great American Cities has, since its first publication in 1961, become the standard against which all endeavors in that field are measured. In prose of outstanding immediacy, Jane Jacobs writes about what makes streets safe or unsafe; about what constitutes a neighborhood, and what function it serves within the larger organism of the city; about why some neighborhoods remain impoverished while others regenerate themselves. She writes about the salutary role of funeral parlors and tenement windows, the dangers of too much development money and too little diversity. Compassionate, bracingly indignant, and always keenly detailed, Jane Jacobs’s monumental work provides an essential framework for assessing the vitality of all cities.

 

Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City

Anthony Flint

Random House, 2009

*** Read our review.

The rivalry of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses, a struggle for the soul of a city, is one of the most dramatic and consequential in modern American history. To a young Jane Jacobs, Greenwich Village, with its winding cobblestone streets and diverse makeup, was everything a city neighborhood should be. But consummate power broker Robert Moses, the father of many of New York’s most monumental development projects, thought neighborhoods like Greenwich Village were badly in need of “urban renewal.” Standing up against government plans for the city, Jacobs marshaled popular support and political power against Moses, whether to block traffic through her beloved Washington Square Park or to prevent the construction of the Lower Manhattan Expressway, an elevated superhighway that would have destroyed centuries-old streetscapes and displaced thousands of families. By confronting Moses and his vision, Jacobs forever changed the way Americans understood the city. Her story reminds us of the power we have as individuals to confront and defy reckless authority.

Wrestling With Moses not only is engaging narrative of the lives and places of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses, but in describing the context in which city planning came into its own with the community-driven development and diversified neighborhoods represented by Jacobs, this book becomes a useful aid in considering neighborhoods and development in our own places. Jacobs, it would seem, became such an important voice for cities simply because she loved her own neighborhood so much; certainly, any neighborhood planning that begins and ends with affection for a place will make our cities healthy places to live.

 

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