loren Eric Swanson: To Transform a City

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

To Transform a City

I just finished a (rather lengthy) paper called To Transform a City--a primer on city-reaching concepts as well as a construct for thinking about cities. If you enjoy these opening paragraphs and would like a copy of the paper, drop me an emai at eric@tangogroup.com and I'll send you the entire document...complete with diagrams. Bon Apetit! [UPDATE FOR EARLY UPLOADERS: ERROR ON PAGE 14 "UGANDAN PRESIDENT" SHOULD BE REPLACED WITH RWANDAN PRESIDENT"
To Transform a City
By Eric Swanson

Cities occupy a large space in the heart and plans of God. Today there are over 400 cities with populations over one million and over half the world’s population now are urban dwellers. “By 2015 three will be more than 225 cities in Africa, 903 in Asia and 225 in Latin America…[that] will have more than 1 million people in each.”[1] City living has a transforming effect on people. In his book, The City: A Global History, Joel Kotkin observes,
Cities compress and unleash the creative urges of humanity. From the earliest beginnings, when only a tiny fraction of humans lived in cities they have been the places that generated most of mankind’s art, religion, culture, commerce, and technology. This evolution occurred most portentously in a handful of cities whose influence then spread to other centers through conquest, commerce, religion, and, more recently, mass telecommunications.[2]

Cities form the creative center through which social influence flows. There is far more connectivity, financial transactions, knowledge transference, media production and seedbed for social change in the city than in the country…and it seems that it’s always been that way. Socrates once said, “The country places and the trees don’t teach me anything, and the people in the city do.”[3] The story in the Bible may begin in a garden but it ends in a city.

Unequal influence
Not all cities are equal in their influence. New York and Los Angeles collectively will shape the expressions and content of traditional media more than all other cities combined (with the possible exception of Bombay[4]). Produced in Los Angeles, the television show Baywatch (not that you’ve ever seen this show of course), for example, has been shown in 140 countries and watched by billions of people.[5] How’s that for reach? The financial cities of the world like London, New York, Singapore, Hong Kong and Frankfurt, though not the largest in size, have the greatest influence on the world economy. In the 1940’s the journalist A. H. Raskin remarked that “in a single afternoon in a single Manhattan skyscraper, decisions would be made that would determine what movies would be played in South Africa, whether or not children in a New Mexican mining town would have a school, or how much Brazilian coffee growers would receive for their crop.”[6] In the last sixty years the importance of cities has only increased…not decreased. We cannot entertain the idea of transforming communities without thinking about transforming the cities of the world.
Tim Keller, Senior Pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City writes, “Cities are growing in the ‘Third World’ at an enormous rate and are regenerating in the U.S. and Europe. In the U.S. even smaller cities have seen a renaissance of their downtown cores, as professionals, immigrants, international business leaders, empty-nest baby-boomers, artists, and the ‘young and hip’ move back in. The coming world ‘order' will be a global, multi-cultural, and urban order.”[7] How will the Church respond to this urban phenomenon? Can the cities and communities of the world be transformed?
[1] Praalad, C.K. The fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. Wharton School Publishing, Upper Saddle River, NJ (2006) p. 12
[2] Kotkin, Joel. The City: A Global History. Modern Library, New York (2005) p.xx
[3] Kotkin, Joel. The City: A Global History. Modern Library, New York (2005) p. 21
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bollywood. The Indian film industry produces more films and sells more tickets than any other country but most of its influence remains in the Hindi-speaking part of the world.
[5] http://www.uktv.co.uk/?uktv=standarditem.index&aID=537675
[6] Kotkin, Joel. The City: A Global History. Modern Library, New York (2005) p. 95
[7] Keller, Tim, Ministry in the New Global Culture of Major City-Centers (2005)


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