Detroit, Urban Development, and D.G. Hart
Religion & Liberty Online

Detroit, Urban Development, and D.G. Hart

Darryl Hart has a bit of a go at “the hyperventilation that goes on in some neo-Calvinist circles when folks talk about the power of the gospel to redeem all of life,” using the woes of the city of Detroit as a trump card.

Hart wonders why he hasn’t “seen too many posts from the transformers about Detroit’s decline and bankruptcy.” I don’t know if The Gospel Coalition is going to have anything say about Detroit’s bankruptcy, but Tim Keller does reflect more generally on the future of cities in America:

Some of the most troubled, such as Detroit, are going to have to make drastic changes, essentially shrinking their urban footprint deliberately and redesigning themselves as a smaller municipality. But that will not be the norm in the U.S. I believe that immigration and broader cultural factors still make cities highly desirable destinations for the most ambitious and innovative people, and that will be crucial in continuing the rise of cities.

Over at New Geography, Pete Saunders writes about why he views the bankruptcy positively:

It acknowledges that its troubles are far deeper than most realize. It can be the springboard for fiscal recovery, a re-imagining of the city and an actual and complete revitalization. Detroit indeed is in uncharted waters, and its abandonment means that in many respects it could be viewed as a frontier city once again. I would not be surprised if, after restructuring and reorganization, after recapturing its innovative spirit, the city could see growth almost like it did at the beginning of the twentieth century, mimicking what, say, Las Vegas has done for the last 40 years. Even at this dark moment, Detroit has assets that are the envy of other cities.

So maybe Detroit isn’t a success story, for neo-Calvinist transformationalists or anyone else, but that doesn’t mean that we need to post “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” signs at the city’s borders. We can hope, even if it turns out to be a ‘fairy tale’ and with the barbarians are at the gates, for instance, that the DIA might remain in the city.

For some other reading on Christian engagement in Detroit, check out these:

Those last two items are particularly relevant to Hart’s concluding query: “How about some basic city planning with or without Christ for all those pikers living this side of glory?”

Indeed, as I’ve write about in my new book, Get Your Hands Dirty, there’s something to the “frontier” future of Detroit that needs to be accounted for, including the promises of urban farming.

The frontier means, according to the Bloomberg piece, that “Detroit’s new urban frontier is a lot like the Wild West: Grow enough food to support your family, make do with what you have and rely on your neighbors when you need help.” Maybe in that respect Detroit will end up looking like Deadwood, a land of order without law.

Be sure to follow the coverage of Detroit at Christianity Today’s This is Our City project.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.