Monday, March 12, 2012


In chapter 8 of  For The Love of Cities (see previous post) Peter Kageyama talks about the importance of co-creators in creating lovable cities.  For much of the chapter he discusses two cities (New Orleans and Detroit) that have been decimated in recent years, almost to the point that one could honestly wonder if a come back was possible.  {and in the case of NOLA it seems reasonable to ask if making a comeback in that particular location is a truly good idea anyway--history aside}.  NOLA was of course devastated by a single day.  But there are signs of people making a big difference in that city.  Detroit was the victim of "death by a thousand cuts" rather than one event.  But after the crash of 2008 and the bottom falling out of the auto industry ithe city's decline became most evident.  And there too people are making a difference.

Kageyama points out that in cities like NOLA and Detroit it is alomost easier for co-creators to make a real difference--simply because they are fish in a smaller pond.  But he also points out that there is a big difference.  People in NOLA know that a total rebuild is needed.  People in Detroit maybe not so much.  On page 184 he writes:
If you talk to people in New Orleans. there is a sense that they are on a mission.  And that perception is reflected in public awareness.  The small group of co-creators I have met in Detroit are also on a mission, but that mission has yet to be understood across the city.
Dan Gilmartin, Executive Director of the Michigan Municipal League said to me, "Many of our leaders are trying to recreate the economy we had here in the 1950's and 1960's.  They still believe that is possible.  And until we break from that thinking, we cannot move fully forward."  Gilmartin is representative of many up and coming leaders who are battling with decades of tradition and industrial era thinking.
While I already thought that there was much in this book that applied as much to the church as to cities, this sunk it for me.  HOw many of us who are leaders in the church have run into what I once heard someone call "Golden Era Syndrome", that belief that we can return to what once was [note that it is my belief that GES also involves a whole lot of false or selective memory which blinds us to the flaws of that time].  There is a belief that if we just do something, or some set of things we can recreate the church, or the economy, or the community that we had once.

Of course it is not that simple.  Things have changed.  Detroit will never be what it once was.  It may avoid becoming a Robo-Cop world.  It may rebuild itself.  But it won't be that anymore.

I lived for 9 years in a community that suffered from the same problem.  There was a recurring desire to bring in the next big project that would employ hundreds (at high paying jobs) and bring the town back to what it was when the mines were running {currently that community is banking on a proposed gold mine, although it has a lot of work to do if it hopes to fully benefit from that project as this editorial points out}.  There was little appetite to hear those voices that pointed out that such mega-projects were more and more unlikely, that the town needed to find something other than rocks or trees as an economic base.

Currently that discussion is happening, to a large extent, throughout the province of Ontario.  That province was Canada's manufacturing heartland.  ANd as such it was, for many years, one of the two major economic engines of the country (the other being the oil industry, mainly centered in Alberta).  Now, due to a combination of factors, this is no longer the truth.  And yet the politics of the province tend to revolve around which party is going to bring those days back (the answer is none given that provincial/state or federal governments have much much less control over the economy than people like to believe).  There is less of an interest in figuring out what the next economic engine for the province might be and more in restarting the engine that has stalled.  A government which pledges to (and actually does) invest in new, risky, endeavours is called out for taking too many risks and spending money foolishly (especially when those risks don't pay off within the election cycle) when what they "should" be doing is investing in old-style mills/plants/factories. {Of course if they don't invest in new ideas they are then lambasted for that too -- sometimes government is a no-win propostition.}  And to a degree I understand.  THe new economy doesn't bring jobs that pay at the same level or the same number of jobs.  ANd we have led ourselves to believe that we can only survive with what we know.  After all change is always a challenge.

In our churches, the same thing happens.  New-style programming is looked on, all too often, with askance.  And that assumes that there are people with the vision of a new-style program.  Many of us are not naturally co-creators.  Many of us are not naturally people who can envision a whole new way of being the church.  But we need to give those co-creators room.  In our churches, in our community groups, in our cities, in our provinces/states, in our nations we need to give room (and possibly $$$$) to theose people who see a new way forward.  We can't go back.  The table has turned.  Which way are we going now?

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