Bringing comitted Christians into the new urban fold
ROBERT STEUTEVILLE    APR. 1, 2003
The Rev. Eric O. Jacobsen thinks interest in New Urbanism among committed Christians, and especially among Christian intellectuals, is about to take off. Since completing a draft of Sidewalks in the Kingdom early last year, “there have been two major conferences on New Urbanism and Christianity,” the Missoula, Montana, Presbyterian pastor said in a phone interview with New Urban News. The first, at Seaside, Florida, in March 2002, which Jacobsen attended, was on “New Urbanism and Communities of Faith.” It was sponsored by the Seaside Institute and Calvin College, a liberal arts school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church in North America, and included participants of a variety of faiths, some nonChristian. The second, “A Testimony of Place: Building Churches and Building Neighborhoods,” was held at Calvin College last September. New urbanists such as Philip Bess and Victor Dover have spoken publicly on links between faith and the building of good communities, Jacobsen noted. Jacobsen, who describes himself as “a card-carrying member of the Congress for New Urbanism,” believes that if he hadn’t written his book (scheduled for distribution this May), someone else would have. Many religious magazines are planning to publish articles on the connections between New Urbanism and Christian beliefs, he said. Since word has circulated about his book’s impending release, he noted, “A lot of people have written to me and said, “You beat me to the punch.” Jacobsen spent most of his life in Seattle and the San Francisco Bay area before moving to Missoula, where his interest in city planning was sparked by his reading of The Good City and the Good Life (Houghton Mifflin, 1995), by former Missoula mayor Daniel Kemmis. Kemmis discussed the way a city “creates presence,” identified “a deep longing for a spiritual dimension in public life,” and referred to scenes in the local market as being “kind of a sacrament.” At the end of Sidewalks in the Kingdom, Jacobsen tells of joining CNU and finding that although there were “about twenty categories” for members’ vocations, none was listed for individuals involved in religious communities. If Jacobsen’s desires are heeded, eventually CNU will have a subgroup of people whose belief in New Urbanism is an expression of their faith. Ultimately, he thinks, New Urbanism can tap the energy of a large spiritual population.