BY JOSEPH REIGLE
The Game of Balance
Humans are urban creatures. We flock to metropolitan hubs like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago in the tens of millions.
As an Urban and Regional Studies (URS) major in the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, I study cities: how they are defined, the parts that comprise them, and the methods used to understand them.
Two prime examples that shed light on the meaning and spectrum of cities are Eden and Babel.
The author of Genesis describes Eden as a garden paradise, unspoiled and divinely created. In contrast, he articulates how Babel was formed through industrial innovation and made as a monument of pride.
The symbols of Eden and Babel convey a central relationship that URS majors seek to understand and influence: the balance between natural and metropolitan environments, preserving God’s creation or forming our own.
This division between the creation of God and the creations of man has been a subject of Christian contemplation for a long time.
In his theological magnum opus, The City of God, St. Augustine defined the two sides of this dichotomy as The City of God and The City of Man.
The City of Man he characterized as earthly and destined to decay, whereas The City of God, Augustine argued, is essentially eternal and destined to triumph.1 A simplified delegation of human roles would task Christians with building up The City of God and urban planners with reshaping physical and communal space within The City of Man.
As a Christian and an urban planner, I have my hands in both these cities.
Where the Cities Intersect
While it may seem that these two cities are absolutely at odds with each other, within the Biblical metanarrative, the goals of the urban planner and the Christian converge.
Our duty as humans is to be “co-creators” and “co-redeemers” within God’s plan for the physical world and the spiritual one; to work in The City of God and The City of Man.
And this job is universal, not relegated exclusively to Christians, but shared by all of humanity.2 The good work of an atheist urban planner contributes to God’s redemption of the cosmos as equally as a Christian’s.
Our creating is a part of God’s redeeming the world.
For God’s ultimate goal is to redeem all of creation from the effects of sin, not just people. God is concerned with the spiritual realm and the physical one. As James K. A. Smith puts it, “God’s redemption is cosmic, not anthropocentric.”3
City Planning in a Fallen World
However, the work of co-redemption is not easy; in fact, in this world, it always remains incomplete. This idea is echoed in a design concept called “wicked problems.”4
According to this concept, objectively right or wrong answers don’t exist. Because there are actually multiple parts that together contribute to improvement in the “right” direction, attempts at solving a problem bring one closer to a solution without being the solution.
As a result, urban planning becomes a continual process of solving and then re-solving problems.
This conclusion may sound despondent, but there is a benefit to appreciating our limited perspective. It frees us to recognize that in The City of Man, solutions are always imperfect, but in The City of God, we can have hope for a truly perfect solution to our fallen state.
The Game of Imbalance
So while the work of co-redemption and urban planning have distinctively complex and absorbing challenges, they also inspire curiosity and growth by raising compelling questions:
What does it mean to work in a world where solutions to urban problems are impermanent and imperfect?
How should we care for the natural environment and foster industrial innovation?
What does our ability to create urban societies imply about our relationship with God as the ultimate Creator?
Majoring in URS inspires me to think about my work in The City of God and The City of Man. Although solutions in this imbalanced world are imperfect, good work still portends the ultimate redemption in store; it pushes one to look to forward to the city “whose designer and builder is God.”5
1 Comstock, Patrick. (2013). Historical Context for City of God by Augustine. Retrieved from https://www.college.columbia.edu/core/content/city-god/context
3 Smith, K. A. James. (2010). Redemption. Retrieved from https://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/redemption/
4 Horst W. J. Rittel, & Webber, M. (1973). Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning. Policy Sciences, 4(2), 155-169. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4531523
5 Hebrews 11:10, ESV