Can cities be renewed without the Church?
Like many others, Joel Kotkin believes that America’s cities are distressed and in need of renewal (“The American City’s Long Road to Recovery,” American Affairs, Spring 2021).
He cites the impact of the pandemic and urban unrest and violence as merely highlighting deep troubles in our cities. The pandemic brought to light the overcrowded nature of many cities, and the various accompanying dangers. It also underscored the intense class divisions the exist in many cities, and that tend to encourage unsettled conditions.
The violence in our cities is the face of “urban nihilism”, a sense of despair and hopelessness that too often can flare into violence.
He calls for cadres of new urban leaders who can bring together business and those who have been “left behind” to work for new solutions to the ills of our cities. He calls for cities to seek a “new urban order” which includes more green space, identifying and working to meet the aspirations of various demographic groups, improving schools and infrastructure, and keeping the streets safe. The city we need to work for “will feature a progression of different urban types: elegant, walkable core cities, vibrant neighborhoods,, multi-polar new boom towns, thriving suburbs, and resurgent small urban centers.” Active business involvement, lower rents, engaging individuals and their aspirations, and making cities more attractive to outsiders (especially businesses) are bit the keys and ends of this proposed urban renaissance.
Conspicuously absent from Kotkin’s proposal is any role, or indeed, even any place for the Church. It’s as if the Church doesn’t exist in the city, or has nothing to offer, or no future in urban renewal. Have we earned such an oversight role? Not entirely; but if we’re going to have a seat at the table in restoring our culture in any way, we’re going to have to earn it by our love, our willingness to serve, and our commitment to excellence in everything we do.