Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Pastor Endorses Urbanism

I never expected to link an article from Christianity Today. I was wrong. This interview with Pastor Eric Jacobsen is definitely worth your attention.

The pastor, who with his family has always lived where he can walk to his church and to shopping, believes strongly in the role that good community design can provide toward strong, functioning communities. In his words, “…for both understanding and flourishing in the built environment, we need to experience it on foot.”

He goes on to argue that suburbia has failed because it fails to include all of the land use elements needed for a complete life within walking distance of each other.

I heartily endorse his thoughts on the role that can a church building can fill, or not fill, in a community. “Churches shape the built environment either by becoming a key gathering spot within a particular neighborhood or by becoming a kind of alien presence in a neighborhood where a whole bunch of cars from 'who knows where' show up intermittently throughout the week, but especially on Sunday morning.”

I disagree with the pastor on a couple of points. First, he argues that good neighborhood design isn’t sufficient by itself to induce good neighborly behavior. I believe he’s wrong. I think that good neighborhood design, without any other factors, can change how we interact. (See my note below about Coady Court.)

Also, he argues that effective communities lie at the intersection of family, church, and city. While I agree that the fellowship of a church can help build a community, I don’t believe it’s essential. I’ve had many neighbors and fellow community members with whom I had great relationships without ever knowing what their religious beliefs were.

But these disagreements would only be quibbles among friends who agree on most points about the need for urbanism.

Follow-Ups and Schedule Notes

Pocket Neighborhoods - Three months ago, I wrote about the book “Pocket Neighborhoods” by Ross Chapin. In the book, Chapin lays out his thoughts about compact developments, a form of land use that violates many of the established zoning rules but nonetheless results in effective, functioning communities.

In the earlier post, I noted two developments in Petaluma that had elements of pocket neighborhoods. One was Coady Court.  I asked if anyone had information to share on Coady Court. For three months, that request went unanswered. And then the following comment appeared on Petaluma Patch, where my post had been re-published.

“I live on Coady Court and I feel so lucky. We do share a lot of butter, eggs, milk and such and we give each other rides to the airporter, borrow each other's cars, lawn mowers, bread makers. There are three 12 year olds on the block in the same class in the same school and we carpool most of the time. Sometimes there are up to seven neighborhood kids running up and down the street shrieking. We watch out for each other and we don't have fences around our front lawns. Lucky.”

What great testimony about a successful neighborhood.  We need more neighborhoods like this.  Therefore, we need to change both the zoning codes and the development mindset to make them happen.

More Pocket Neighborhoods - On the subject of pocket neighborhoods, I recently learned an intriguing bit of Petaluma news. I’m not yet in a position where I can share the news, but it’s potentially a very good thing for Petaluma. Stay tuned.

 Petaluma Urban Chat – A collection of Sonoma County residents continues to gather monthly to talk about urbanism issues in the North Bay. Under the working title of “Petaluma Urban Chat”, we meet at the Aqus Café in Petaluma. Most months, we meet on the second Tuesday of the month at 5:30pm.  But this month, the meeting has been rescheduled to the third Tuesday. So, if urbanism interests you, please join us on October 16 at 5:30pm for a casual exchange of ideas. Soon, we may also add an urbanism book club element to our meetings.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated. Please comment below or email me. And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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