Church Goers on the Defense Against New Urbanism's Anti-Sprawl Crusade

This commentary from church architect Randy Bright argues that New Urbanists unfairly attack church sprawl, and that the cost of developing denser communities is the freedom of the people.

Bright tackles the argument from the perspective of a church-goer.

"I've nothing against New Urbanism, per se, but I find it troubling that when they extol the virtues of New Urbanism, it is generally followed by characterizing 'sprawl' as something to be demonized. Banks further writes that Christians can't live out their Christianity if they live 20 miles away from their church. I think that you will find millions of Christians in America that are doing just that, and are quite willing to make the trip so that they can go to the kind of church they want to attend and associate with the kind of people they like to be with. In reality, if the New Urbanist dream were to come true to create densely developed cities as the only place for human habitation, you would find that people would still drive 20 miles from one side of the city to another, in heavy traffic, to attend the church of their choice.

And I would have to ask, do these New Urbanists do Facebook, Twitter and all the others? Do you really think that they ignore far away friends and only spend time with their next door neighbors?"

Full Story: New Urbanist purists don’t comprehend the lives of others



Something to Be Demonized

It's funny how this article tries to counter the idea that sprawl is "something to be demonized" then kind of demonizes New Urbanism and density. While the writer claims that "[t]here is nothing wrong with sprawl" and that "[i]t is simply another way for people to live who want to live that way," he asserts that New Urbanism is an attempt to "eliminate a legitimate lifestyle, suburban living."

Far from being just another available choice of residential environments, one that often does include "suburban" forms like detached housing with yards, New Urbanism costs its residents their personal freedom and responds to no identifiable consumer demand other than that of young people who will eventually just move out to sprawl anyway. New Urbanists aspire not just to offer an alternative to sprawl but to abolish and replace it. New Urbanism imposes drastic financial costs on the order of Boston's Big Dig because New Urbanists are incapable of planning for adequate infrastructure to serve the New York City-level densities that they envision. And, oh yes, sprawl and its zoning-imposed minimum lot sizes and setbacks and road widths and street hierarchies represent capitalism, while private-sector New Urbanists designing neighborhoods for private-sector developers seeking profit do not.

All this the writer argues while claiming to have "nothing against New Urbanism."

Church "Creep"

What I find objectionable is when churches in old, historic neighborhoods buy up and knock down houses to enlarge their churches. In one of the oldest neighborhoods in my town, one church has bought 40 properties and torn down the houses to turn the land into parking lots and added church space. I'm sure some churches make good neighbors, but some seem bent largely on the premise, "build it and they will come."

Bright Should Have Read All of Sidewalks in the Kingdom

Speaking of Jacobson's book Sidewalks in the Kingdom, Bright comments that of the "dozens of books and countless articles" he reads every year, "there are few that I can’t finish because I can’t agree with the premise of the book, and Jacobsen’s book was one of them." This is highly unfortunate. I live in Tulsa, and Bright is the architect to go to if you want to build a mega-church, which has to be one of the only city's of its size in which you could survive in that niche as an architect.

I read Jacobson's book five years ago and it had a tremendous impact on me and others I know who are regular church attenders. I'm amazed and disheartened that Bright could not set aside his assumptions long enough to read one of the only books available on New Urbanism from a Christian perspective.

One main reason that the book is so worth reading to the end is that it is a call to Christians to do the opposite of Bright's fundamental rule that Christians drive across town "so that they can go to the kind of church they want to attend and associate with the kind of people they like to be with." This thinking is exactly what leads to churches segregated on the basis of race and economic means and other more narrow cultural tastes. It is a complete travesty. On the positive side, organizations like the Christian Community Development Association stress that churchgoers should relocate to neighborhoods intentionally to transcend race, economic and cultural differences and work for the good of those neighborhoods.

Responsible stewardship and living in community

I couldn't agree more with jwpickard. I have not been so infuriated for ages after having read the article in full. Coincidentally I am about half way through reading Sidewalks in the Kingdom' and I applaud the author for writing it. I think I managed to disagree with virtually everything Bright said. 1) His tenant that suburbanization is just a choice and shouldn't be demonized is opposed to the Christian belief that we should be responsible stewards of the environment, which means reducing climate change and thus not creating environments where people have to drive all the time. 2) Living in community is another central theme of the bible and something suburbia takes away from us. Bright is also factually incorrect when he says things like higher densities place a higher strain on public utilities. Of course, they place a lesser strain as the pipes, although larger, don't have to stretch so far to reach the end of the single family cul-de-sac. Ok, I could go on, but I think I should take some deep breadths and calm down...

Tim Barton

Who doesn't comprehend who?

This is what happens when a religious zealot turned Starchitect wannabe with a lot of fancy letters after his name tries passing off his own feable evaluation of someone else's review of a book he didn't even read as reliable commentary on a subject he didn't care enough about to investigate. Forget all the factual errors lost in translation for a minute; all you need realize is that N.U. started in suburbia because - for various reasons - it was the only place these projects could get done early on, which is ample grounds to reject his entire premise.

We have these mega-churches in my neck of the woods of eastern Pennsylvania as well. Not many...Catholic and Calvary mostly. The problem is the same: giant buildings, usually in the middle of a former cornfield and nowhere near any of the current parishioners homes who go to these institutions. So then parking lots are the size of football stadiums and the parish houses, which are 5000 sq ft goliaths in their own right, are literally dwarfed by the scale of these church buildings.

How does anyone have a reasonable communion with God in these monstrosities? And who at the CNU ever said no one shall live in a well-planned suburb? So much for community building and stewardship of nature within the workings of this feloow's brain. Something of great import has been lost in this country and it's effects can be seen across the spectrum, from government, business and the media to academia, religion and the design professions. We have no idea of what a well-functioning public realm looks like anymore and lack the consensus building skills to define one.

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