Sacred Suburbia

Excellent article from New Geography, which most suburbanites will recognize as emblematic of their neighborhoods; I surely do about mine.

An excerpt.

“From the earliest times, cities have revolved around three basic concepts – security, the marketplace and what I call “the sacred space.” In contemporary America, everyone wants safe streets and a thriving economy, but what about the ethereal side, the places that makes us take note of a place and feel, in some way, a connection with its history?

“What makes up sacred space in our time is debatable. Certainly, the great churches of Europe and the mosques in the Islamic world are the most obvious symbols. In America, we have relatively few such places, but there’s also the sanctity of a war memorial, a monument to a revered leader, concert hall, cherished parks or a sports facility…

“In the end, I would argue that “sacred space” in the current context is basically about home – those places where one has lived, children have played, pets have lived out their lives and where holidays, religious or not, are shared with neighbors. Suburbia not only does not negate this kind of sacred space but, in a surprising way, nurtures it.

“In his brilliant book, “Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir,” author D.J. Waldie writes about growing up in the Orange County-adjacent, suburban tract development of Lakewood. He still lives there, and believes that, for millions of Americans – like his parents – these modest communities represented something very inspiring, a place to raise children, go to church, know the neighbors.

“I actually believe that the place where I live is, in the words of the Californian philosopher Josiah Royce, a ‘beloved community,’” Waldie said last week. “The strength of that regard, Royce thought, might be enough to form what he called an ‘intentional community’ – a community of shared loyalties – even if the community is as synthetic as a tract-house suburb.”

“Lakewood, he notes, is a place that urban planners would like to have seen “bulldozed away years ago to make room for something better,” yet the people there, increasingly Latino and Asian, do not feel their suburb is the invidious thing reviled in urban-studies program or criticized by advocates of forced densification. These are places that people adhere to, Waldie says, even if the appeal is difficult for outsiders to appreciate.

“I believe that places acquire their sacredness through this giving and taking. And with that ever-returning touch, we acquire something sacred from the place where we live. What we acquire, of course, is a home,” he suggests. “It’s a question of falling in love … falling in love with the place where you are; even a place like mine … so ordinary, so commonplace, and my home.”

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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