A Calling for the Built Environment


We have the fortune to be engaged by a wide variety of people who all arrive at the need to build Strong Towns from different points of departure. Today, we are featuring a guest post by Member Sara Joy Proppe, who is organizing an event with the Center for Environmental Leadership on May 3 in the Twin Cities called ZipCode Calling. It is gathering of spirtual leaders from throughout the region to discuss the role the built environment plays in carrying out the mission of the church. Jim Kumon will be keynoting the conference and helping the participants understand the big picture of how our blocks, neighborhoods, cities and regions work together.

Our collective future is going to rely on summoning the strength of our cultural institutions to work through the challenges that will present themselves. Whether you attend a church, synagogue, mosque, temple or other faith community, we urge you to engage your leaders and fellow members to discuss your role in these issues. Sara Joy is starting such a conversation here in Minnesota and if you are interested in how you can do the same, she can be reached at sj.proppe@gmail.com.

When people ask how I became interested in the field of urban planning, I always smile because my path feels rather unusual. And, I happily blame Virginia Woolf for the love of city design that I harbor. In my last year of college as an English Literature major, I tooka cross-listed course: English Literature and Urban Planning; an unlikely match that set me on this unexpected path. Did you know you can draw an accurate map of London in the 1920s by tracing the walks of each character in Woolf’s most famous work, Mrs. Dalloway? Mind-blowing, at least for me.

Through this class I was also introduced to the works of Jane Jacobs, Lewis Mumford, Duany, Plater-Zyberk and Speck, among others. I marveled at how integral the orientation of buildings, the design of sidewalks and streets, access to green space, mixed-use and mixed-income developments were to the flourishing and sustainability of community life. In my readings, I further learned that many urbanists were lamenting the placelessness developing in America. And, upon a closer read of Mrs. Dalloway, it turned out that Clarissa Dalloway mourned the loss of personal connections offered by small businesses before the War, while her young daughter was enamored by the glitzy, post-WWI department stores stocked with nameless faces and mass-produced goods.

In short, story is what led me to explore urban planning and design. I began to see how the setting affects the ways our lives take shape. The built environment - the streets, sidewalks, and neighborhoods we inhabit - can encourage us to know one another and grow social capital and civic virtue or they can fosterisolation and wariness. As a person of faith, I started considering how biblical stories are rooted in particular places while the overarching biblical narrative moves from a garden to a city. In the midst of these stories, people are called to love their neighbors, which I believe encompasses stewarding the built environment in a way that promotes community health, in all its facets.

Historically, churches have played a central role in anchoring the community, not only in a spiritual sense, but in a physical way as well. Churches along with the seat of government often marked the geographic center of town. The church building frequently served as a hub for community gathering and a place of refuge and sanctuary. Though most churches no longer mark this geographic center, the call to love one’s neighbor is consistent, which means we ought to consider the built environment as medium for pursuing this.

ZipCode Calling – Twin Cities is a one-day conference for Christian pastors and leaders to gain some tools for understanding the built environment and the unique ways they can answer the call to love their neighbors through nurturing good places for people to live together.

While pastors and leaders are equipped for tending to the spiritual health of the community, there is oftentimes a gap in their toolkit for understanding how they can nurture well being through the design of the local built environment. Because of this, many miss out on the joy and privilege of participating in the planning, design, and building of livable neighborhoods, downtowns, or cities that help nourish individuals and communities for generations. Through this conference, participants will learn about principles of good design and great placemaking that encourage community flourishing. This time will also be an opportunity to meet and talk with other leaders and pastors about how these ideas might be fleshed out in local congregations and neighborhoods. We hope you’ll join the conversation!

Conference Details:

WHEN: May 3, 2014, 8:30 am – 5 pm 

WHERE: The Central Mission, 1632 Charles Avenue

COST: $25 registration (includes lunch and Tim Soeren’s new book, The New Parish)

TO REGISTER CLICK HERE

Join us for 3 great speakers who will share about principles of urban design, how it affects the local community (for good or for bad), ways pastors and leaders can be effective in reaching their neighborhoods through the built environment, and why this matters.

Conference Sessions:

Introduction to Design Principles of New Urbanism, Jim Kumon (Strong Towns)

Creative Placemaking 101, Max Musicant (The Musicant Group)

Shaping Renewal: Why the Setting of God’s Restoration Matters More Than You Think, Tim Soerens (Parish Collective)