Features

Man about town

"Man about town" Continued...

Issue: "Building a city," March 24, 2007

Many churches these days, when expanding their facilities, look for the 10-20 acre site on cheap land with good access (Sound like a familiar story? Think big retail). This ensures the church is only accessible by automobile and probably nowhere near any preexisting human activity in the community-it's no wonder we've lost some of our connection with the world.

The better scenario is to look for the spot near some nexus of human energy and build a church which fits into that context. The really exciting hybrid of that positive scenario is when churches also play developer (likely through a partnership of sorts) and add housing or major mercy facilities into their master plan.

WORLD: Since Atlanta is your hometown-and to many a maze of overbuilt freeways and endless shopping meccas-how do you interact with locals to improve your own public realm?

LEERSSEN: Hotlanta-the city too busy to hate. Its energy and youthfulness are intoxicating, but from a planning and architectural standpoint we've grown inebriated with our success and grown too fast. It really is a fantastic laboratory to test out various patterns of building a city: solid intown neighborhoods with transit, walkability, historic properties, and decent retail; first-ring suburbs that are for the most part imploding due to an exodus of fleeing families and downward real-estate values; second-ring suburbs that seem to do OK but are stiflingly boring; and the exurbs, which is a horse farm next to gated cul-de-sac that could go on quite literally till Tennessee. Frankly, due to our abuses of the land, we are returning back to time-honored principles of city building.

We all have to help locally, and for me that means serving on the board of my neighborhood and chairing our zoning committee. There very local decisions about density and design and streetscapes are made as we negotiate with developers and landowners. I attend planning workshops and interact with the process, and many times end up angling for the rights of the poor, the elderly and car-less.

My family also sits on our porch a good bit; we take walks and are available for neighbors. We make use of our parks and sidewalks and trails so that we can enliven and reinforce the idea of being with other humans. We walk to dinner, to shopping, and to transit, saying hello usually to more than one neighbor. Once the coffee shop opens up, we'll be there, too. We don't watch a lot of TV-we'd prefer to interact with ruddy faces, not glowing ones.

WORLD: What can fellow Christians do to improve the growth of their communities in meaningful and practical ways?

LEERSSEN: Be more mindful of the physical spaces around you-begin to ask yourself some questions about the places in which you dwell. Are your daily places those where you have the opportunity to interact with other image bearers? What does your commute do for you? Are you active in your neighborhood-allowing you to more fully know and love your neighbors? Is your church active in its (maybe the same) neighborhood? Community is both physical and nonphysical, but God gives us the capacity to dwell in and improve both.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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