Those Who Can Fix Anything: Restoring Through City Planning by Aaron Fortner

I love my job as a city planner and urban designer. My work lets me explore and discover the basic principles of creating great communities. Through my years in this passionate pursuit I’ve found that the elements of great places are universal and timeless. There is a genetic code to healthy and vibrant communities and the more we learn the better able we are to create great places today.

Regardless of technology, topography, geography, economy, religion or culture – all great places successfully connect people to people. Think about your experience in a place you loved. It felt so alive, full of energy, it had that great café, the amazing park, it was beautiful, it pulled you in, you walked for blocks and blocks. From small towns to big cities, the places we love connect us together.

We love community and God loves community. He made us to love Him and others and nowhere is this more possible than in the community of abundant connections. God desires us to be connected and the design of your community makes this either really easy or painfully difficult. Therefore, as members of community we must champion anything that connects us and root out whatever separates us.

Often times the barriers to connections are obvious. Every element of our built environment can be designed in a way that either facilitates connections or hinders them. The places we live, work, play or worship can and should be designed to maximize connectivity, but God’s desire for connections goes far beyond just the physical arrangement of things.

Isaiah 58 reveals God’s deeper perspective on the disconnections that matter most. Injustice is a barrier. Exploitation is a wound. Oppression is a pit. Debt is an anchor. These keep us apart and have the power to disrupt the love of God and others. These are the symptoms of the broken city and the remedy is love in action.

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families.”

The broken city is repaired not by removing needs but by meeting them. Restoration comes not from pushing others out but by lifting others up. Redemption won’t be prayed away but must be broken, ridden, freed, canceled, shared, invited and given away. Could the call to action be any clearer? And for those that put these words into action?

“You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.” (MSG)

Isaiah 58 is God’s blueprint for what could and should be in your community. There isn’t an organization in this world with greater potential for putting these words into action than the local church. You may have never thought of the church as a placemaker or a community builder but if Isaiah 58 is true then could there be any greater champion for community than the local church?

If these needs exist in your church’s community – your church must act. If they don’t – your church must find a community where these needs are and partner with the local church there to act. If your church is so blessed – do both. In a time of unspeakable need and pain this could not be any more relevant for the communities of this nation and world. Imagine a church at the center of it all – meetings needs, building community, rebuilding broken walls and living out a love for God and others with unavoidable radiance.

In your opinion, is city planning a legitimate expression of Christian faithfulness? Have you or your church been involved in any placemaking projects?