Tag Archives: Cities

The Biblical City | Part 3

The New Jerusalem by Mollie Walker Freeman (2013).

The Biblical City: Redux
By Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Can the Holy Bible tell us anything about urbanism?

It might seem unusual to investigate the Holy Bible for information about urbanism but the idea is not completely off-the-wall. In fact, it’s the subject of a fascinating 1997 study, The City in the Bible: A Relational Perspective, by the Jubilee Center in Cambridge, England and commissioned by the Anglican Church of England (Crook, 1997). The Jubilee Centre is a non-profit Christian social reform organization that “offers a biblical perspective on issues and trends of relevance to the general public” (Source: Jubilee Centre). Other writers have also examined biblical descriptions of city planning, such as those found in the Old Testament books of Leviticus and Ezekiel (Gallion and Eisner, 1963; Frick, 1997; Reps, 1979; Hawkins, 1986). However, the most comprehensive research appears to principally derive from a social science or religious studies perspective instead of architecture or urban planning. In part, this is understandable since it’s almost impossible to separate religious doctrine from any investigation of the Holy Bible, whatever the subject. The expressed purpose of the Jubilee Centre study is to explore “God’s view of today’s city (and) how modern Christians should address urban problems” with particular emphasis on the “local action” of Christians in “political and community involvement” (Crook, 1997; 5-6).

Crook (1997) correctly points out the commonly accepted, anti-urban stereotype of the Holy Bible – and presumably of God, which reached its apex beginning in the 19th century with social reformers such as Ebenezer Howard, persisting to this day – derives from popular culture perception of its most famous stories; the Garden of Eden, the construction of the Tower of Babel as a rebellion against God, God’s wrath against Sodom and Gomorrah, Jewish revolts against Rome, and Jesus’ entry/subsequent crucifixion in Jerusalem. It is an incomplete picture but even Crook is somewhat guilty of playing to this anti-urban stereotype in his 1997 study, arguing cities began and continue “in sin and rebellion… violence… corruption and oppression” (7). This statement can be equally applied to humanity in general, and not necessarily only cities in particular. However, the overwhelming majority of references to the city in the Holy Bible are neutral (see The Biblical City, Part 2), and the two most important in the New Testament are positive. As Crook (1997) concedes, “cities… represent a microcosm of God’s redemptive plan. The Bible begins in a perfect garden, but ends in a redeemed city, the New Jerusalem” (6). Jesus first introduces this microcosm of God’s plan using the city as a metaphor during the Sermon on the Mount, saying, “You are light for the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden” (NJB Matthew 5:14). In 1630, this was the source for Puritan John Winthrop’s sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity”, promoting a “city on a hill” that would become Boston. During the 20th century, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan expanded on this reference in expressing an ideal of American exceptionalism as “a shining city on a hill” and a model for the entire world. In all three cases, the city is presented as an ideal to achieve (be it God’s salvation, Christian charity, or American exceptionalism) and not merely a hotbed for sin, violence, and corruption. One is forced to wonder how our planning of contemporary cities might be improved if we started from the premise that the city is a Divine ideal to achieve instead of an Earthly problem to solve.

Crook, A. 1997. The City in the Bible: A Relational Perspective. Cambridge, England: Jubilee Centre. Report commission by the Anglican Church of England.

Frick, F. 1977. The City in Ancient Israel. Princeton: SBL Dissertation Series 36.

Gallion, A.B. and S. Eisner. 1963. The Urban Pattern: City Planning and Design, Second Edition. Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc.

Hawkins, P. 1986. Civitas: Religious Interpretations of the City. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press Studies in the Humanities.

Reps, John W. 1979. Cities of the American West: A History of Frontier Urban Planning. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

NEXT: The City of Wisdom

The Biblical City is a new series from The Outlaw Urbanist.

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The Biblical City | Part 2

The Biblical City: Of, In, The…
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Can the Holy Bible tell us anything about urbanism?

There over eight hundred and fifty (850) common references to the city in the Holy Bible. There are over four-and-a-half times the number of common references to the city in the Old Testament than in the New Testament. This is unsurprising since the Old Testament has about four-and-a-third more words than the New Testament, depending on translation and which books are included.

Of the approximately one hundred and fifty (150) common references to the city in the New Testament, over twenty-one percent (21%) occur in the Book of Revelation alone. Outside of this, there are only six (6) common references to the city, which appear more significant than merely indicating a geographical place; two (2) in the Gospel of Matthew (or simply Matthew) and four (2) in St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews (or simply Hebrews). More than half (51%) of the common references to the city in New Testament are nouns denoting the location/direction of a specific person in space (“He went into the city”, e.g. he was outside but now he is inside), often after a proper name (e.g. Jerusalem) was previously used in the text. These common references are extremely important in the New Testament. They map for the reader the movement and location of specific people at specific moments, most usually Jesus and his Apostles, or in recounting past events/parables during the course of the primary action of a specific text. More than a third (36%) of the common references are a non-possessive, non-relational subject or object (direct or indirect) of a sentence. (e.g. “The city was…” or “…a city”). Again, this often occurs after a proper name was previously used in the text (i.e. we already know where the action is taking place). Finally, only eleven percent (11%) of the common references in the New Testament are possessive nouns (e.g. “the priests of the city”). These possessive nouns are often important for denoting differences; for example, between insider (e.g. resident or citizen) and outsider (e.g. visitor or stranger), the powerful (e.g. priests) and the powerless (e.g. poor), or other such relationships presented as a dichotomy in the narrative.

The last might signify an important difference. Of the approximately seven hundred (700) common references to the city in the Old Testament, nearly twenty-seven percent (27%) are possessive nouns. Almost two-and-a-half times more possessive nouns are used in the Old Testament than the New Testament, in relative terms. There are several plausible reasons for this difference. It might be a simple quirk of translation, which arises for a variety of reasons. For example, most of the Torah is translated from Hebrew and the New Testament from Greek. Alternatively, perhaps it is simply because the texts of the New Testament are younger than those of the Torah. Another possibility is a difference in the scale of human perspective about their world. The perspective of the New Testament is a Roman World. The perspective of the Old Testament is limited to the region of Judea, Egypt and Mesopotamia. This might have led to a change in writing style, abrogating the perceived need for extensive use of possessive nouns. Or, it might be a consequence of all these factors. In any case, this might be important because the writing style of the New Testament – and, in particular, the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles – seems much more similar to the Historical Books of the Old Testament (Joshua through Maccabees) than the other books. Nearly three hundred (300) or forty-two percent (42%) of the common references to the city in Old Testament are nouns denoting the location/direction of a specific person in space. However, the Historical Books deploy these common references at a greater frequency than the rest of the Old Testament. Over forty-five percent (45%) of the common references to the city in the Old Testament occur in the Historical Books. Finally, about thirty-one percent (31%) of the common references to the city in the Old Testament are a non-possessive, non-relational subject or object (direct or indirect) of a sentence. What this suggests, whatever you might believe, is the writers of the Gospels and Acts believed they were writing histories and adopted the appropriate writing style for that endeavor drawing upon the model of Old Testament texts.

NEXT: Part 3, The Biblical City Redux

The Biblical City is a new series from The Outlaw Urbanist.

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The Biblical City | Part 1

Featured Image: Depiction of Cain establishing the city of Enoch by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (circa 1851-60).

The Biblical City: In the beginning…
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Can the Holy Bible tell us anything about urbanism?

The Holy Bible might seem an unusual source to search for answers about urbanism. After all, it is manifestly a religious text dealing with questions of spiritual law, conduct and faith, especially the New Testament. However, the Holy Bible also represents some of the oldest texts in human history with the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) generally dated to around 1400 BC and surviving fragments of the Torah available from around 600 BC. The counter argument: it is the height of arrogance to assume prima facie the Holy Bible cannot tell us anything useful about cities and urbanism.

Of course, in researching the Holy Bible for timeless lessons about cities and urbanism, we have to accept parameters of scale will limit us to conceptual investigations and metaphorical interpretations. The ancient concept of a city is remarkably different to our modern one due to radical differences in population. World population is generally estimated at between 15-60 million people before the 4th century AD height of the Roman Empire. World population today is more than 7 billion people or approximately 100-500 times greater, depending upon scholarly estimates for ancient populations. The modern megalopolis would have been unimaginable to our ancient ancestors. We also have to accept the limits of translation. Biblical texts have been translated time and time again over the ages. What we might find in researching the Holy Bible will be heavily dependent upon how these ancient texts were translated in the past, hereby affecting our interpretation of the material today. This article initially relies upon the King James (KJB) version of the Holy Bible but also uses the Catholic New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) (translated “directly from the Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic” according to the Roman Catholic Church) as a double-check for translation issues. It is likely this is insufficient. However, it is a good place to start if we actually hope to say anything on the subject during a single lifetime.

There are more than three hundred (300) cities mentioned by name in the Holy Bible. Of these, some named cities are clearly more important than others. In particular, Jerusalem, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Babylon/Babel represent something more than mere settlements in geographical space though, of course, they are also this in the biblical texts. These cities have a strong metaphorical/symbolic nature running throughout most of the Holy Bible right to the Book of Revelation (written around 95 AD). There are other well-known biblical cities mentioned such as Jericho, Rome, and Nazareth, which seem more important for the exclusive purpose of geo-spatial location and identification (e.g. “Jesus of Nazareth”). Jerusalem (referenced over 600 times in the Old Testament alone) is first casually mentioned in Joshua 10:1 (KJB “Now it came to pass, when Adonizedec king of Jerusalem had heard…”). Jerusalem is also the last city mentioned by name in the Holy Bible in the Book of Revelation 21:10 (NJB “In the spirit, he carried me to the top of a very high mountain, and showed me Jerusalem, the holy city, coming down out of heaven from God). The first city mentioned in the Holy Bible is Enoch, built by Cain and named after his son (NJB Genesis 4:17. “Cain had intercourse with his wife, and she conceived and gave birth to Enoch. He became the founder of a city and gave the city the name of his son Enoch”). Some argue Cain’s Enoch is the ancient Mesopotamian city of Uruk, which was famous as the capital city of Gilgamesh, hero of the Epic of Gilgamesh. However, it is more generally accepted that Uruk is the biblical Erech, said to be founded by Nimrod, who was the great-grandson of Noah. In any case, considering he famously murdered his brother Abel (KJB Genesis 4:9 “Am I my brother’s keeper?”), Cain represents a rather inauspicious father figure for city builders and planners. One could argue (tongue-firmly-in-cheek), this represents the original sin of the planning profession for which they still seek amends to this day as modern planners explicitly desire to be their “brother’s keeper”.

NEXT: Part 2, The Generic City in the Bible.

The Biblical City is a new series from The Outlaw Urbanist.

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The City’s Essential DNA | Mark David Major | The Journal of Space Syntax

“The city’s essential DNA: Formal design and spatial processes in the urban patterns” by Mark David Major is now available in Vol 4, No 1 (2013) of The Journal of Space Syntax. Read an excerpt below:

Our descriptions of cities are often based on their physical form. In urban theory, these descriptions are usually expressed in terms of a dichotomy whereby meaning emerges from contrasting cities as organic or regular, unplanned or planned, natural or artificial, generated or imposed, and so on (Gallion and Eisner, 1963; Alexander, 1965; Moholy-Nagy, 1968; Batty and Longley, 1984). Kostoff (1991) suggests this dichotomy is ‘the most persistent, and crudest, analysis of urban form’. Hillier et al. (2012) even argue that ‘we should abandon the long-standing distinction between geometric and organic cities’ because it does not adequately address the deliberate use of geometry at different scales of the city (p.187). Notably, the first stresses process over time in terms of ‘unplanned evolution’ or ‘instinctive growth’, whereas the second stresses the conscious act of design in a ‘centrally planned scheme’ (Kostoff, 1991, p.43). This ‘shorthand’ provides a basic understanding of cities across different times, cultures, and geographical regions. The usefulness of descriptions such as ‘organic’ or ‘regular’ lies precisely in the fact they are theory-loaded terms. They seemingly convey a lot of information in an easy-to-grasp manner. We say ‘seemingly’ because these terms are so theory-loaded they can often lead to confusion, which can make their descriptive value ‘more a hindrance than an aid’ (Kostoff, 1991, p.43). For example, ‘regular’ seems to be an explicit description of both the physical form and design process that gave rise to that composition. However, the term ‘organic’ seems to only pertain to process. According to Batty and Longley (1994), organic cities ‘grow naturally from a myriad of individual decisions at a much smaller scale than those which lead to planned growth. Planned cities or their parts are usually more monumental, more focused, and more regular’ (p.8). The term ‘deformed’ is sometimes used to describe the physical form of organic cities, but more often than not, is tacitly understood to be a given about such cities. This explicit and implicit description of urban form and process forms the basis of their descriptive value, since most cities are easily classified as having common or different attributes when characterised as organic or regular.

Download a PDF of the full article here: The city’s essential DNA: Formal design and spatial processes in the urban patterns | Major | The Journal of Space Syntax.

UPDATE: The Journal of Space Syntax has now included the images in the article available at the link above. However,  they are also below for your reference.

The Urban Transect.
Form and process in the urban pattern (left to right) grid expansion, block size manipulation, deformation, street extension, and discrete separation.
Philadelphia, Yesterday and Today: Philadelphia urban pattern in 1682 (left) and today (right) within bounds of William Penn’s original 1682 plan.
The Urban Pattern: Istanbul, Turkey (left), Paris, France (center), and New York in the United States (right) (Note: not to scale)

(Comment from Steve Mouzon) I’ve always found the classical-vernacular/refined-organic useful when considering urbanism. A couple quirks to consider: A highly talented planner can do a competent job with an organic plan, but a vernacular process will never produce a rigid grid. With that having been said, the best might do a bit better than competent, like Leon Krier at Poundbury, but Poundbury isn’t as good as dozens of Cotswold towns built by the townspeople. Most planners are not nearly so good as Krier, so each pole of the spectrum is obviously really good at what they do. FWIW, I regard Krier as the personification of classical planning, and Christopher Alexander as the personification of the vernacular process. We need them both, although neither of them realize that. I had a good conversation with Krier about that one night in South Bend. I’ve heard about Space Syntax for years, but have no meaningful knowledge of it. Someone (you, I hope) should blog a description that’s clear and descriptive to the rest of us.

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The Splenda Housing Market | To Be or Not to Be

To Be or Not to Be: The Splenda Housing Market
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

UrbanLand reports we finally have a ‘real’ housing recovery (see below). Trulia Trends and The Atlantic Cities report housing prices are recovering at a more rapid pace in urban neighborhoods than in the suburbs (see below). However, CNN/Money and AOL Real Estate report McMansions of suburbia are making a comeback (see below) based on recent Census data instead of national homebuilder ‘wish fulfillment’ surveys (see The Outlaw Urbanist January 24, 2013 post, “McMansions Return“). Other media outlets are reporting an explosion in rental apartment construction. What gives?

Welcome to a Splenda Housing Market, where the modus operandi is a saccharine high of easy money, taxpayer-funded bailouts, and manipulated markets!

• The Fed continues to pump easy money into the economy at a rapid rate through its bond-purchasing program called Qualitative Easing (what number are we on now?). Despite what Paul Krugman and the American government tell you (“we only measure inflation on things people don’t want to buy”), there are real inflationary pressures out there, which are transmitted into every facet of the American economy including housing. The evidence lies in the year-to-year increase in housing prices from 2011 to 2012. The appreciation of property values in the Trulia Trends report range from 7.3% in New York to an astounding 33.8% in Las Vegas! This is patently unsustainable and highly suspicious.

• Eager to return to the “good, old days” as quickly as possible, realtors and landlords are shamelessly inflating prices for home/property and monthly rents to a level far above their real value, especially in light of the next item.

• The banks have a huge amount of inventory of foreclosed homes on their books, the majority of which lies vacant and withheld from the housing market. What does it mean? Housing prices never reached their true floor.

• For every home foreclosed, the banks not only get the home but also file an insurance claim on the mortgage debt, usually with AIG (i.e. the American {Insurance} Government). What does it mean? The banks get to have their cake courtesy of dispossessed homeowners and they get to eat it too funded by American taxpayers by double dipping on the value of the home and the mortgage.

• As home/property values continue to appreciate at a steady pace, the banks will systematically release their massive inventory onto the market to capitalize on rising housing prices. What does it mean? The value of your home/property is artificially suppressed as increased inventory enters the market;

• The longer home/property values appreciate and the more inventory released on the market by the banks, then the more the initial gain in the recovery rate of housing prices in urban neighborhoods touted by The Atlantic Cities and others will evaporate. These stable, urban neighborhoods tended to be the last to experience the crashing wave of falling housing prices during the Great Recession, so naturally they are the first to recover their real value. However, this is an ephemeral comeback for urban neighborhoods. The longer the Splenda Housing Market is in effect, then the more attractive becomes cheap land at the periphery of our cities and the ‘old way’ of doing things. Welcome back, suburban sprawl! We hardly could stand you the first time around!

What does it mean for you? The long and short is this: unless you possess the equity at hand to pay cash for a property/home now, then you’re totally screwed. Too bad, suckers. Remember friends: the only reason the shit rolls downhill is because of who is squatting at the top and taking a dump.

Excerpt from June 27, 2013 article, “Housing Recovery Strengthens, but Credit Remains an Issue” by Bendix Anderson on UrbanLand:

“The housing sector is finally helping the U.S. economic recovery, rather than holding it back. But more Americans than ever now spend more than half their income on housing, according to The State of the Nation’s Housing 2013, a report released June 26 by the Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) at Harvard University. “Clearly, we are in a strong housing recovery now,” said Eric Belsky, managing director of JCHS.

Read the full article here: Housing Recovery Strengthens, but Credit Remains an Issue | UrbanLand.

Excerpt from June 25, 2013 article, “Home Prices Rising Faster in Cities than in the Suburbs – Most of All in Gayborhoods”by Jed Kolko on Trulia Trends:

Here’s the punch line: urban neighborhoods had faster price growth in the past year, while suburban neighborhoods had higher population growth. The median asking price per square foot was up 11.3% in urban neighborhoods, versus 10.2% in suburban neighborhoods. (The overall national increase, including urban and suburban neighborhoods, was 10.5%.) But despite faster price growth in cities, the suburbs are where people are moving: suburban neighborhoods had faster population growth than urban neighborhoods did, 0.56% versus 0.31%.”

Read the full article here: Home Prices Rising Faster in Cities than in the Suburbs – Most of All in Gayborhoods | Trulia Trends.

Excerpt from June 5, 2013 article “McMansions Are Making a Comeback” by CNN/Money on AOL Real Estate:

“As the economy recovers, America’s love affair with the oversized McMansion has been reignited. During the past three years, the average size of new homes has grown significantly, according to a Census Bureau report released Monday. In 2012, the median home in the U.S. hit an all-time record of 2,306 square feet, up 8 percent from 2009.”

Read the full CNN/Money article here: McMansions Are Making a Comeback | AOL Real Estate.

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