Cover Story

Street smart

"Street smart" Continued...

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

These people are rediscovering their cities in ways the Greeks had in mind long ago. They called the city polis, from which flow so many words for citizen and civic duties. In forming political systems to govern these towns, the Greeks at times turned from all that had gone before: rule by conquest, tyranny, and tribalism.

Naturally the Greek city had at its center the agora, or marketplace. And what defined these ancient cities were their people: Athens gave the world formal culture and learning; Corinth excelled at trade and debauchery; and Sparta, well, Sparta gave us spartans.

The Greeks were hardly alone in letting worldview determine how to build and organize a place to live. In China, hutongs, traditional courtyard housing, were small in scale, clearly subservient to the walled palace at the city center. In areas conquered by Islam, streets and housing tended to flow downhill from the mosque, also typically a walled affair. Roman cities were the first to plot streets on a grid to ensure order and control, with significant land given over to military parade grounds. And everyone can recall the New England town with a steeple at the center close by a grassy green kept for livestock-open and without walls.

If the Greeks imagined a city for the people at its core, the French made that city beautiful. Baron Haussmann designed the wide boulevards of Paris in much the same way as Frenchman Pierre L'Enfant marked out the avenues and landmarks of Washington, D.C., in the late 18th century, turning, he wrote, "a savage wilderness into a garden of Eden."

And while others pondered the city, Americans gave it new energy. From the commercial venture that was Plymouth Plantation to the West India Company's purchase of Manhattan Island for the legendary price of 60 guilders, Americans fashioned from a relatively recent wilderness what are now three of the 10 wealthiest cities in the world and one of the world's 10 largest.

American cities do not score in the top 10 cities with the best quality of life (a list dominated by Switzerland, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand). Nor do they host the world's largest churches (those can be found in South Korea, Ivory Coast, Chile, and Nigeria).

But if Americans are known to "pave paradise and put up a parking lot," they are not the first. The Greeks built rut roads 16 or more feet wide-in one instance hacking through mountains and adding bypasses from Athens to the city's marble quarries at Mount Pentelicus. The Romans flattened shops and colonnaded homes to widen the Straight Street in Damascus so it would accommodate passing chariots. And the French paved over tenement housing and picturesque alleyways at the direction of Napoleon III to slice Paris into wide boulevards, expansive parks, and radial roads. Critics at the time viewed what would become the city's signature beauty as an imperial plot to speed troop movement and conquest.

For everyone, it's the street where you live that's most vital. WORLD asked its writers for this special issue to report on those where they live, on why their cities are unique and dynamic. And to report on cultural gardening overseas in cities they have visited and loved. Wherever the streets, Christians know that they are on a pilgrimage, somewhere between the garden that was in Genesis and the garden-city laid out in Revelation. The Tree of Life presides over both, but for now we tend to see death reigning. We look at the city's headaches and heartaches-congestion, prejudice, poverty, violence, war-and too often flee, missing the call of God in Jeremiah to "seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you."

City Profiles

U.S. Cities

San Diego: Catchin' the wave, by Lynn Vincent

Seattle: Books, books, books, by Mark Bergin

Dallas: Not in my backyard, by John Dawson

Charlotte: West Side story, by Jamie Dean

New York: Bullish on the Big Apple, by Mindy Belz

World Cities

Jerusalem: Jerusalem by foot, by Marvin Olasky

Casablanca: Atlantic allies, Mindy Belz

New Delhi: Melting pot, by Jamie Dean

Shanghai: Shanghai blues, by Becky Perry

Lusaka: Gardening and garbage, by Priya Abraham


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