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September 27, 2007



Do you think that the government's role is to provide (or make accessible) affordable housing? Is it the Church's role?

I am trying to feel where you are coming from.

Matt Adair

No and no. Where I'm coming from is a community that for multiple reasons, both intentional and unintentional, has made it rather difficult for people to live in this area.

My issue is not as much with the 'what' but the 'why.' I'm troubled that in a very religious community, we still see life as a journey of the self (self-protection; self-actualization; self-fulfillment) rather than an opportunity to leverage our resources for the good of as many people as possible. I'm bothered by the fact that there's a tendency to value people based on external realities such as their socio-economic status. And don't get me wrong, I am what I hate. I'm as suburban as the next guy. I'm just not content to stay that way.


It is funny to me that this issue (the heart issue that you referred to in your comment) is masked under the guise of 'affordable housing' by the architecture and planning culture. The theory is that if we could only figure out a way to get my next door neighbor's house to sell or be subsidized for 50% of the value and have someone move in that makes 50% less than me a year then we can finally have the 'community' we all desire.

It just doesn't make sense.

What does suburban mean to you? Again, just trying to see where you are coming from.

Matt Adair

Again, I'm not approaching this particuar issue solely from a market perspective. My concern has more to do with why we create the communities we create and how we approach things like the type of housing we build. I simply don't think the values that influence what we build and why we build it mirror the perspective of the scriptures which are rather clear in teaching us that what we have does not exist to be exhausted on self-perceived needs. Texts like Proverbs 3:27 are even so bold as to suggest that those in need around us have rights over the stuff in our possession.

In other words, I have little hope in government intervention - the big problem is a heart and worldview that simply do not reflect the values of Jesus.

In terms of what the suburbs are, I think it's helpful to see what suburbia was in its formation. Here's a blurb from Al Hsu, author of the very helpful book, 'The Suburban Christian':

'Suburbia, originally, was about providing affordable housing in healthy living environments. Go back to the late 1800s, the industrial revolution. The culture had shifted from rural to urban. It was an urban jungle, people lived in overcrowded urban slums in the shadow of factory smokestacks, and it was toxic and dangerous. Bad sanitation, bad infrastructure, noisy. It was a public health hazard. People were at risk at home and at work.

Suburbs were developed so people could live away from industrial areas and have better living conditions, with green space and open land and better health. That was a good thing. Suburbia provided affordable housing for millions of families after WWII. All the soldiers and sailors came back from the war and there wasn’t room in the urban centers, which had decayed during the Depression and the war effort. Suburban housing was affordable and peaceful. It was considered the happy medium between city and country, away from an overindustrialized, mechanized culture, closer to parks and grass and woods, while still having convenience and access to the benefits of civilization. That’s the origin story, suburbia’s creational good. It points back to one of the most basic human needs – shelter. If the Bible starts in the garden of Eden and ends in the city of the New Jerusalem, suburbia was a way of bringing garden and city together.

The problem, of course, is that modern suburbia has departed from its original noble ideals, especially in terms of the vision of affordable housing for all. We all know that suburbia can be an extremely expensive place to live, that housing values have far outpaced income, making living in suburbia difficult for the lower and middle class.– the cost of living in suburbia now, for many, runs counter to the original dream. Instead of a place of peace and rest, a suburban home and lifestyle often generates financial anxiety and worry.'

Back to me now. In the end, what the suburbs have become are a rather self-directed community of individuals primarily concerned with a life of safety, security, comfort and convenience. Lots of implications and questions could be asked out of that, but that's at least a place to start.


As an urbanist my self (one who promotes a denser way of life) you are kind of preaching to the chior. I am excited about where your persutes will take you with this line of thinking, especially in a 'suburban quasi-christian culture' who equate material with spiritual blessings. I for one wreastle with these very issue but am more concerned with the physical environment that can foster ideas of 'community' (I put that in quotes because I have no idea what that means). I feel that we, as Christian, are not simply called to deal with spiritual matters and neglect the physical ones (just look around and that is exactly what we are doing) and I feel that God has called me in to a position to change our physical surrounding for his glory and to make us more aware of eachother.

The reason I asked what you thought the suburbs are is not because I didn't think that you knew but it is the fact that the word 'suburb' gets thrown around almost as much as community and we have no idea what it is or what it looks like. But you are right that the cost (physical and spiritual) far outweighs the benefits of living in issolation like we do.

Matt Adair

Churnock - I'm very interested in the way we use physical space - both in terms of our use of resources and the difficulties it creates in terms of making relational connections. For instance, I have a massive yard which might get used more when Jonathan gets a bit older, but seriously, do I need all of that land...especially when it separates me from my neighbors?

There are lots of topics to get tossed around - size of homes, traffic patterns, commuterism, etc. This is just now starting to be a topic of discussion in the church...hopefully some viable solutions will present themselves as time goes on.

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