On this morning after Earth Day, we offer this excellent essay on the New Urbanism from Episcopal News Service, by the Rev. Jason Fout, assistant professor of Anglican theology at Bexley Hall Seminary.
The New Urbanism, Fout writes, “is a movement in urban planning which emphasizes developing and rehabilitating walkable, human-scaled neighborhoods. Some of the principles that its proponents value include mixed-use zoning (so homes, shops and schools can all be close to each other, rather than requiring a car); greater public transportation where practicable; more and better shared spaces in parks, plazas, sidewalks and the like; neighborhoods designed so that people of various ages, physical abilities and financial resources might live in and enjoy them; and working to develop cities and suburbs that are greener, more livable and sustainable. It might seem appealing, but the church’s role might not be obvious.”
After relating a tragic anecdote, he continues:
There are issues of justice involved here, but this is primarily an issue of design: we have designed our cities and towns around cars and not around people. We have made it dangerous to be pedestrians like Raquel Nelson and her children, and this danger holds for all those who physically cannot drive, those who cannot afford to drive, and those who don’t care to drive. Since our decision to become a car-based culture following World War II, we have consistently changed our built environment to cater to cars, particularly to enable them to go faster, with wider lanes, faster speed limits, and fewer stops. In rural areas this is eminently appropriate, but we have done so in densely populated areas as well. As speeds rise, fatality rates skyrocket: 5% of pedestrians hit by a car going 20 mph die; at 40 mph, the fatality rate jumps to 83%.
We need leaders who are aware of and can advocate for policies that foster walkable, sustainable neighborhoods, and who can teach this way of thinking to others. That’s what it has to do with the church.
Do you agree that the church has a role to play in the New Urbanism?