David Thompson, my friend and fellow urban Christian, is fond of
referencing the description of the new Jerusalem at the very back of
the Bible in the book of Revelation and saying, "We're heading towards
a heavenly city, so you can join me now or join me later." Meaning
that understanding how to be an urban Christian isn't just relevant
for Christians who happen to currently live in urban settings, but for
all Christians. Because though we started in a garden, we're going to
end up in a city.
It turns out that even on this side of glory, we're heading towards an
urban future. At the 2006 Urban Age Conference in Berlin earlier this
month, Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution presented "An Urban
Agenda for an Urban Age"
In his speech, he argued that our future will be an urban one, both in
terms of numbers (today, a majority of the world's population lives in
cities) and issues.
The issues that our world faces and will face make just as good a
point as my friend David that it behooves all of us Christians to
understand cities. In quoting stat after stat, Katz explained that
the Urban Age would be defined by sheer numbers, explosive growth,
mobility/migration/diversity, complexity, and connectivity. He shared
that the issues facing such global cities as New York, Mexico City,
Johannesburg, London, and Shanghai, are the very ones that will define
the Urban Age: balancing massive sprawl with environmental
sustainability, battling violent crime and racial exclusivity, and
finding enough money for transportation infrastructure and public
services. He noted that the challenges that plague the world's cities
– poverty and climate change and prejudice – are the very things that
are best solved in urban places.
Finally, he proposes that the solutions to the problems we will face
in the Urban Age boil down to three P's: people who are linked
together, policies that are linked together, and places that are
linked together. In other words, it will be about the integration of
city builders across disciplines, the integration of programs that
address multiple avenues, and the integration of the urban form with
the sociological and psychological needs.
If this is so, should not urban Christians then be useful players in
this Urban Age? We who, as a unit, are connected, cross-disciplinary,
and multi-cultural? Who care about things like bigotry and indigence
and violence? Who have a category for both the physical and the
spiritual, the economic and the environmental? Who daily seek to make
cities places where the tax burden is fair and crime is deterred and
jobs are available and the most vulnerable are cared for? Would not
an urban Christian perspective be useful to this age, and point others
to the age to come?
If that's so, then let me modify what my friend David likes to say,
add suggest: "We're heading towards an urban world, so you can join me
now or join me later." Would that more Christians, whether currently
in cities or not, become more sensitized to urban issues, that this
side of glory would be better off, and the other side of glory more