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Urban Planning Series: An Ideal Environment for the Gospel
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Judy Hall's picture

We’ve been talking about the legacy of urban planner Jane Jacobs, who described city people as those with “eyes on the street” who “know each other and yet welcome strangers all the time.” To me, this sounds like the folks in a local urban church, people who know and watch out for each other, and yet welcome new folk all the time – an ideal environment for the Gospel!

I think we were drawn to Jacobs because she has a very systemic – what we would call a “living system” – approach. She looked at the city as a living ecosystem of intricately woven details. Here in her 1992 foreword, we read of the vibrancy and passion that she brings to the business of learning about cities: “I...began in 1958 to...describe the...enjoyable services that good city street life casually provides… learning and thinking about city streets and the trickiness of city parks launched me into an unexpected treasure hunt.”1

“Cities are...natural ecosystems,” She goes on to say. “It is urgent that human beings understand as much as we can about city ecology ...The humble, vital services performed by grace of good city streets and neighborhoods are...as good a starting point as any...for a new generation of readers who, I hope will become interested in city ecology, respect its marvels, discover more.”2  

One of Jacobs basic principles is that cities need “a most intricate and close-grained diversity of uses that give each other constant mutual support, both economically and socially.”3

She thinks, “…unsuccessful city areas are areas which lack this kind of intricate mutual support,” and that, “the science of city planning and the art of city design...must become the science and art of catalyzing and nourishing these close-grained working relationships.”4

In ministry, too, we need to develop the science and art of working together. This is what Living System Ministry and the Process of the Gospel are all about. In the words of EGC staff member, Sheba Telore, we must “live systemically” or we will “die systematically!” 


1 Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Vintage Books, 1961), p. xi.

2 Jacobs, p. xviii.

3 Jacobs, p. 14.

4 Jacobs, p. 14.

Developing the science and

Developing the science and art of working together is key for all aspects of ministry. As so beautifully set forth by Jane Jacobs, the ecosystem of the city can teach us much about this living systems dynamic. Jacobs premise that cities need “a most intricate and close-grained diversity of uses that give each other constant mutual support, both economically and socially” can be seen in my ministry area of violence prevention, particularly in cities.

An assessment conducted by the Urban Networks to Increase Thriving Youth revealed that cities with more coordination in their violence prevention efforts have lower rates of violence. Is this a coincidence? I think not. Violence prevention in cities is about nurturing the vitality of cities.
"Prevention works," says Minneapolis Police Department Lieutenant Michael Sullivan, "It's working right here, right now, in my city, where we reduced violence by 40% in just two years—and then brought it down another 20%. And we didn't do it by increasing arrests. We did it by giving young people opportunities to thrive."

Living Systems thinking has something to teach us about the city as well as the interaction of its inhabitants, institutions and sectors. The church is an important institution within the city that will flourish in relationship to its community as it develops its understanding and practice of Living Systems Ministry!

LeSette Wright's picture
Submitted by LeSette Wright (not verified) on Thu, 06/21/2012 - 8:55pm.
     
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