How do these themes connect with Americans, who mostly live in either suburban or urban environments?
Harris: That’s one distinction between a Christian take on creation and a secular romanticism about wilderness. Think about Psalm 104. In that psalm, which echoes Genesis, you don’t just have “the sea and everything in it”; you have ships on it, working. You don’t just have the land; you have people, working. There is a radical environmentalism that wishes people were not on the planet. That’s not the biblical view at all. A Rocha in the United Kingdom actually works in the most polluted, urban borough of the country, because creation isn’t absent just because people are there. The challenge is how to restore a right way of life, rather than escaping to some wilderness paradise. Fifty percent of the planet now lives in cities. That is where we live out our relationship with creation.
As Christian conservationists, do you see urbanization as a good thing, a bad thing, or something neutral?
Harris: My biblical theology means I cannot see it as a bad thing. The ultimate biblical vision is the heavenly city. Our challenge is the redemption of the urban, not the consecration of wilderness.
Peterson: I agree, and I don’t think we realize how much of our view of wilderness comes to us through the Romantic movement. Romantic literature was written at the height of the industrial city, with its exploitation, poverty, and child labor. In reaction to all that, they gave us the concept of nature as romantic. But it’s not romantic.
Harris: It may not even be natural. Sir Ghillean Prance, who has studied the Amazon rainforest for decades, believes that the very diversity of the rainforest is a result of gardening. The human beings who lived there selectively used it and tended it, and that is the best way to account for its extraordinary botanical diversity.
Even biologically, the idea of a pristine, teeming world without human beings probably isn’t accurate. Britain is certainly a case in point. The original British form of vegetation was a pretty monocultural oak forest. It was only as farming came and we had a diversity of habitats that we had the biodiversity that we cherish on the British Isles today.
So we should understand the human presence on the planet in God’s purposes as a blessing.
For years, academics, the media, and big-city developers have been suggesting that suburbs were dying and that people were flocking back to the cities that they had fled in the 1970s. The Obama administration has taken this as gospel. “We’ve reached the limits of suburban development,” Housing and Urban Development secretary Shaun Donovan opined in 2010. “People are beginning to vote with their feet and come back to the central cities.” Yet of the 51 metropolitan areas that have more than 1 million residents, only three—Boston, Providence, and Oklahoma City—saw their core cities grow faster than their suburbs. (And both Boston and Providence grew slowly; their suburbs just grew more slowly. Oklahoma City, meanwhile, built suburban residences on the plentiful undeveloped land within city limits.)
All this suburbanization means that the best unit for comparison may be, not the core city, but the metropolitan area; and the census shows clearly which metropolitan areas are growing and which are not. The top ten population gainers—growing by 20 percent, twice the national average or more—are the metropolitan areas surrounding Las Vegas, Raleigh, Austin, Charlotte, Riverside–San Bernardino, Orlando, Phoenix, Houston, San Antonio, and Atlanta. These areas are largely suburban. None developed the large, dense core cities that dominated America before the post–World War II suburban boom began. By contrast, many of the metropolitan areas that grew at rates half the national average or less—San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, New York—have core areas that are the old, dense variety. Planners and pundits may like density, but people, for the most part, continue to prefer more space.
Several other researchers have shown that there is a disproportionate amount of alcohol advertising in predominantly black neighbourhoods compared to predominantly white neighbourhoods. Kwate’s study not only revealed that an astonishing twenty-five percent of the outdoor advertising space in Central Harlem was dedicated to selling alcohol, but also that exposure to these ads increased black women’s chances of being a problem drinker—by up to thirteen percent. That, as she puts it, is “a really big deal.”
What makes [Vancouver] unusual—indeed, at this point unique in all of North America—is that roughly 20 percent of its residents live within a couple of square miles of each other in the city’s center. Downtown Vancouver is a forest of slender, green, condo skyscrapers, many of them with three-story townhouse units forming a kind of podium at the base. Each morning, there are nearly as many people commuting out of the center to jobs in the suburbs as there are commuting in. Two public elementary schools have opened in downtown Vancouver in the past few years. A large proportion of the city’s 600,000 residents, especially those with money, want to live downtown.
No American city looks like Vancouver at the moment. But quite a few are moving in this direction. Demographic inversions of one sort or another are occurring in urban pockets scattered all across America, many of them in seemingly unlikely places. Charlotte, North Carolina, is in the midst of a downtown building boom dominated by new mixed-use high-rise buildings, with office space on the bottom and condos or rental units above. Even at a moment of economic weakness, the condos are still selling briskly.
We are not witnessing the abandonment of the suburbs or a movement of millions of people back to the city all at once. But we are living at a moment in which the massive outward migration of the affluent that characterized the second half of the twentieth century is coming to an end. For several decades now, cities in the United States have wished for a “24/7” downtown, a place where people live as well as work, and keep the streets busy, interesting, and safe at all times of day. This is what urbanist Jane Jacobs preached in the 1960s, and it has long since become the accepted goal of urban planners. Only when significant numbers of people lived downtown, planners believed, could central cities regain their historic role as magnets for culture and as a source of identity and pride for the metropolitan areas they served. Now that’s starting to happen, fueled by the changing mores of the young and by gasoline prices fast approaching $5-per-gallon. In many of its urbanized regions, an America that seemed destined for everincreasing individualization and sprawl is experimenting with new versions of community and sociability.
I’m very weary of the hipster obsession with zombies by now. Cut it out, hipsters. So I felt shame the other night as my friend and I sprinted through the dark along treacherously uneven brick sidewalks, running from zombies and loving it.
Not real zombies, or even hipsters—we were responding to an awesome app for Android phones called Zombie, Run! It’s a location-based game of sorts that places a bunch of zombies between you and your destination on the map. When you’re near enough to a zombie, it begins to give chase. You must reach your destination without a zombie catching you and eating your brains. It’s lots of fun and can make mundane trips much more interesting, especially if you enjoy running around like a maniac in public.
But a game like this is also fascinating when you set down your can of High Life and put on your Geographer hat. It directs a kind of spatial behavior that technology more often stamps out in one way or another—wandering. While our gizmos usually tell us exactly where something is and how to get there, here is something that forces a person to stray from the direct path. Assuming the player keeps his eyes open and actually notices the world around him, the game provides an interesting way of experiencing and understanding urban spaces. By acting upon virtual landscape in the physical landscape, the player travels unpredicted paths and enters areas that might otherwise never have been seen.
The scholar Friedrich Hayek finds that the first writer to use the term [“social justice”] was an Italian priest, Taparelli D’Azeglio, in his book Natural Rights from a Historical Standpoint (1883). It is in this book that Leo XIII (1878–1903) first encountered the term. The context was one of the most enormous social transformations in human history: the end of the agrarian age that had begun before the time of Christ, and the fairly abrupt entry into an age of invention, investment, urban growth, manufacturing, and services. No longer did families have an inherited roof over their heads and daily food from their own land. Now they were uprooted and dwelling in cities, dependent for shelter and food on the availability of jobs and their own initiative. Traditional social networks were cut to shreds, and the associations of a lifetime were torn asunder. . . .
I know from the experience of my own family over four generations how stressful the great transformation of society has been. Most of the gospel texts are cast in agricultural metaphors—seeds, harvests, grains, sheep, land, fruit trees—and so resonate with the economic order of most of human history until the nineteenth or twentieth century. My family served as serfs on the large estate of the Hungarian Count Czaky, whose own ancestor was a hero in the turning back of the Turks near Budapest in 1456. My relatives were subjects of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and, as near as I can determine, were not able to own their own land until the 1920s. Men, women, and children on the estate were counted annually, along with cattle, sheep, goats, and other livestock, for purposes of taxation.
My ancestors were taught to accept their lot. Their moral duties were fairly simple: Pray, pay, and obey. What they did and gained was pretty much determined from above. Beginning in about 1880, however, because farms no longer could sustain the growth in population, almost two million people from eastern Slovakia—one by one, along chains of connection with families and fellow villagers—began to migrate to America and elsewhere. Usually the sons left first and sent back later for wives. This was one of the greatest—and most unusual—mass migrations in history, with people migrating, not as whole tribes, but as individuals.
In America my grandparents were no longer subjects, but citizens. If their social arrangements were not right, they now had a duty (and a human necessity) to organize to change them. They were free, but they also were saddled with personal responsibility for their own future. They needed to learn new virtues, to form new institutions, and to take their own responsibility for the institutions they inherited from America’s founding geniuses.
In this context the term social justice can be defined with rather considerable precision. Social justice names a new virtue in the panoply of historical virtues: a set of new habits and abilities that need to be learned, perfected, and passed on—new virtues with very powerful social consequences.
In another sense, everything is the ruin of what came before. A table is the ruin of a tree, as is the paper you hold in your hands; a carved figure is the ruin of the block from which it emerged, a block whose removal scarred the mountainside from which it was hacked; and anything made of metal requires earth upheaval and ore extraction on a scale of extraordinary disproportion to the resultant product. To imagine the metamorphoses that are life on earth at is grandest scale is to imagine both creation and destruction, and to imagine them together is to see their kinship in the common ground of change, abrupt and gradual, beautiful and disastrous, to see the generative richness of ruins and the ruinous nature of all change. “The child is the father to the man,” declared Wordsworth, but the man is also the ruin of the child, as much as the butterfly is the ruin of the caterpillar. Corpses feed flowers; flowers eat corpses. San Francisco has been ruined again and again, only most spectacularly in 1906, and those ruins too have been erased and forgotten and repeated and erased again.
Disney Hall’s six-level, 2,188-space underground garage cost $110 million to build (about $50,000 per space). Financially troubled Los Angeles County, which built the garage, went into debt to ?nance it, expecting that parking revenues would repay the borrowed money. But the garage was completed in 1996, and Disney Hall—which suffered from a budget less grand than its vision—became knotted in delays and didn’t open until late 2003. During the seven years in between, parking revenue fell far short of debt payments (few people park in an underground structure if there is nothing above it) and the county, by that point nearly bankrupt, had to subsidize the garage even as it laid off employees.
The county owns the land beneath Disney Hall, and its lease for the site specifies that Disney Hall must schedule at least 128 concerts each winter season. Why 128? That’s the minimum number of concerts that will generate the parking revenue necessary to pay the debt service on the garage. And in its ?rst year, Disney Hall scheduled exactly 128 concerts. The parking garage, ostensibly designed to serve the Philharmonic, now has the Philharmonic serving it; the minimum parking requirements have led to a minimum concert requirement.