1.28.2009

Living in a City

Although the name of my blog is "Musings of an Urban Christian," it
occurs to me that I don't directly talk about city living that much
here. Probably it's because the urban life has sunk so deep into my
daily routine as to become, well, routine. But perhaps what is the
typical backdrop for me isn't so typical for others. So, in the
interest of being a faithful documentarian/anthropologist, here are
some musings about living in a city.

University City circa 2009 has some of your typical characteristics of
big city living. We have hardly any front or back yard space to speak
of, high density means easily walkable trips and less dependence on a
car, and proximity to campus and downtown are huge selling points. We
are neither a high-end neighborhood like Chestnut Hill or Rittenhouse
Square, but nor are we a burnt-out ghetto like big swaths of North
Philadelphia and Southwest Philadelphia.

In many senses, it is this "tweenness" that uniquely characterizes and
distinguishes University City, and why I find it suits me so. Most
urban neighborhoods have more ethnic diversity and cosmopolitanness
than suburban and rural places, but ours also has socio-economic
diversity: professors and doctors living on the same block as people
on welfare and SSI. One needn't go too far from my house to find both
trendy restaurants and cafes as well as boarded-up rowhouses and
squatter communities. Even the senses are dazzled by a diversity of
palettes, from the pleasant waft of brilliant gardens to the
unmistakable stench of fresh marijuana.

What I would hope for in a neighborhood is what I would hope for in a
church. And, not coincidentally, the church we attend is a
neighborhood-serving one and one for which the following statement is
also true. Anyone can feel welcome here: people of all skin tones and
salary amounts and sexual persuasions, all countries of origin and
culinary styles and cultural preferences.

There are pros and cons to any place, and this is no less true of
where I live. I am within walking distance of where the first
computer was built (ENIAC) and where the world's greatest track meet
is held (Penn Relays). I can go days without driving a car while
still immersing myself in some of the greatest cultural, historical,
and gastronomical resources that can be found. And far from my house
being the size of a closet (like in Manhattan) or requiring a salary
ten times what I currently make to afford (like in San Jose), it is
expansive in space and I pay embarrassingly little in terms of my
monthly mortgage.

On the other hand, I actually have to worry about my garbage cans
being stolen; after all, it's happened before. Never mind my trash;
we've also had our house broken into as well as things stolen off our
front porch. And on my good days, I think of my 90-year-old house as
having historical character; but on the rest of the days, I think of
it as a money pit. And did I mention how disconcerting it is to walk
through marijuana smoking and brazen cursing on my way to and from day
care?

Ultimately, God is God over all places, but one can make a Biblical
case that He has a special place in His heart for urban settings. And
that would seem to include my neighborhood. For better and for worse,
we dwell here, and so does He; and so we will keep our eyes and ears
and heart and hands open, that we may be faithful to Him here, loving
Him with all we have and loving neighbor as we do our own selves.

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