I’m shortly going to move to a new-build suburb on the edge of a well-connected town in England. My job as a pioneer minister is to forming a cohesive community on the new-build estates and to help establish fresh expressions of church. The estates are build primarily as places to live with few facilities on them. As yet there are no shops or leisure facilities on the new-build estates, just houses and two new schools.
To help me think through the way such communities can function, I have begun reading Al Hsu’s book The Suburban Christian.
Suburbs can be lovely places to live. In the 1950’s people moved out of the cities to the edges with the promise of owning a new home and having more open space for children to grow up in. This became the American Dream! Now a huge proportion of Americans live in the suburbs. Suburbs often sprawl for many miles around the city. In Chicago you can be driving for well over a hour and not have escapes the Chicago suburbs. The increasing number of new-build housing which is being erected on the edges of towns and cities in the UK is leading to similar types of societies.
Cities offer small condensed living spaces, often with many people living in very close proximity. in the same place as you live there are businesses, shops and leisure facilities, all within walking distance. The suburbs have all these facilities too. Once residential areas moved out of the city, retail space and businesses soon followed, so that in many places, people rarely need to travel into the city centre. The difference with the suburbs is that they are communities built for driving, rather than living close together and walking. It is not uncommon for people to live in one suburb, shop in another, and work in another. The result is that we seem less connected as we are moving from our comfortable little box (home) into our comfortable little car and onto where we want to go with very little interaction with anyone who isn’t in the service industry.
The idea of a modest dwelling all our own, isolated from the problems of other people has been our reigning metaphor of the good life for a long time. It must now be seen for what it really it: an antisocial view of human existence. (James Howard Kunsler in ‘Home from Nowhere’)
Communities become more fragmented, more homogenous and yet harder to find. But in each of us there is still a longing for connection and interaction with others. In suburban culture, it seems we struggle to create them.
Al Hsu’s book, The Suburban Christian, is written primarily for the American Christian who want to understand and get to know the culture that they live in – the suburbs. I’ll be blogging more on issues raise and how they might impact UK new-build communities as I read through the book.