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The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment

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The entire material world can be divided between the Natural Environment and the Built Environment. Over the past forty years, the Natural Environment has received more attention of the two, but that is beginning to change. With a renewed interest in "place" within various academic disciplines and the practical issues of rising fuel costs and scarcity of land, the Built En The entire material world can be divided between the Natural Environment and the Built Environment. Over the past forty years, the Natural Environment has received more attention of the two, but that is beginning to change. With a renewed interest in "place" within various academic disciplines and the practical issues of rising fuel costs and scarcity of land, the Built Environment has emerged as a coherent and engaging subject for academic and popular consideration. While there is a growing body of work on the Built Environment, very little approaches it from a distinctly Christian perspective. This major new work represents a comprehensive and grounded approach. Employing tools from the field of theology and culture, it demonstrates how looking at the Built Environment through a theological lens provides a unique perspective on questions of beauty, justice, and human flourishing.“Jacobsen (Sidewalks in the Kingdom) offers a fascinating and thorough examination of the development and role of spatial relationships within a human-built environment and how it affects the human situation. . . . This is not another tome about ‘going green’ but a serious, meticulous examination of the physical apparatus, animated by human players, that makes cultures thrive, communities effervesce, and people feel as if they belong somewhere. It is a formidable read that demands resolve of the reader. But its worth justifies its heft. It is an excellent choice for the college classroom and students studying the social sciences.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)


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The entire material world can be divided between the Natural Environment and the Built Environment. Over the past forty years, the Natural Environment has received more attention of the two, but that is beginning to change. With a renewed interest in "place" within various academic disciplines and the practical issues of rising fuel costs and scarcity of land, the Built En The entire material world can be divided between the Natural Environment and the Built Environment. Over the past forty years, the Natural Environment has received more attention of the two, but that is beginning to change. With a renewed interest in "place" within various academic disciplines and the practical issues of rising fuel costs and scarcity of land, the Built Environment has emerged as a coherent and engaging subject for academic and popular consideration. While there is a growing body of work on the Built Environment, very little approaches it from a distinctly Christian perspective. This major new work represents a comprehensive and grounded approach. Employing tools from the field of theology and culture, it demonstrates how looking at the Built Environment through a theological lens provides a unique perspective on questions of beauty, justice, and human flourishing.“Jacobsen (Sidewalks in the Kingdom) offers a fascinating and thorough examination of the development and role of spatial relationships within a human-built environment and how it affects the human situation. . . . This is not another tome about ‘going green’ but a serious, meticulous examination of the physical apparatus, animated by human players, that makes cultures thrive, communities effervesce, and people feel as if they belong somewhere. It is a formidable read that demands resolve of the reader. But its worth justifies its heft. It is an excellent choice for the college classroom and students studying the social sciences.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

30 review for The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    Wendell Berry and Wallace Stegner are both writers who care about places and spaces but they tend to be rural and wilderness spaces. Not so Eric Jacobsen who cares deeply about our urban architecture. This book helped me understand the dysfunctions of my suburban community. Jacobsen makes the telling observation that good communities are like good pizzas. Every slice of a good pizza has all the ingredients of the whole pizza. When communities were designed around people being able to walk to chur Wendell Berry and Wallace Stegner are both writers who care about places and spaces but they tend to be rural and wilderness spaces. Not so Eric Jacobsen who cares deeply about our urban architecture. This book helped me understand the dysfunctions of my suburban community. Jacobsen makes the telling observation that good communities are like good pizzas. Every slice of a good pizza has all the ingredients of the whole pizza. When communities were designed around people being able to walk to churches, workplaces, businesses, schools, libraries, and gathering places, they functioned as real neighborhoods with strong identities. The "community" I live in has no name. Most who live in our community don't work here unless they telecommute. There is no full service grocery in reasonable walking distance, nor bank, nor post office. Many of the businesses in the strip plazas that are within walking distance require walking on foot-worn paths perilously close to roadways to be reached from our residential neighborhoods. Two critical factors account for this change--the automobile and functional zoning that separates all business and commercial activity from residential areas. However, this is not a simplistic book but rather a far more nuanced analysis of how these factors have changed the way we use space from the urban density of our center cities to the parklands of our exurbs. Along the way, Jacobsen integrates theological reflection, which makes this book a great resource both for Christians engaged in urban planning and development, and for church leaders trying to understand the space in which their building and congregation is situated and how they can seek the peace and prosperity of that space. What I would have liked to see more of was reflection upon how those in suburban or exurban situations can address THEIR built environments--it seems the only implicit answer Jacobsen would have is to move into the city, or city-like environments.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kenny

    I really liked this book. The author articulates a robust theology of creation. It provided me with much to reflect on regarding the use of space in a vision of human flourishing. Recommended for architects and landscape architects especially. I read it to help me think about values for the use of church buildings and space. It was very helpful in that regard.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Dave Brown

    It’s funny…or perhaps sad….how the academic sorts of reading that I pushed through in grad school is now attractive to me as reading in my spare time. I suppose that, by the time I was reaching the end of my master’s program, I was sort of just realizing my true passions. Around that time is when I became fascinated by theological examinations of culture. I’ve also always been attracted to more urban lifestyles, so a theological examination of urbanism….or, more precisely, new urbanism…was bound It’s funny…or perhaps sad….how the academic sorts of reading that I pushed through in grad school is now attractive to me as reading in my spare time. I suppose that, by the time I was reaching the end of my master’s program, I was sort of just realizing my true passions. Around that time is when I became fascinated by theological examinations of culture. I’ve also always been attracted to more urban lifestyles, so a theological examination of urbanism….or, more precisely, new urbanism…was bound to pique my interest. The Space Between, while a dense read and obviously an academic text, is engaging from every angle. Jacobsen begins with detailed examinations and explanations of the disciplines of city planning, urbanism, and new urbanism, taking the reader into an exploration of how sidewalks fall into the design of a city, how sight-lines should terminate on an urban horizon (particularly fascinating if you have any background in theatre), and other minutiae of the process of laying out an urban environment that will bring enjoyment to most readers simply by exposing them to the knowledge of a field of which most of us know nothing. Then, with a firm understanding in place, we dive into the theological examination of urban spaces. A foundational premise of Jacobsen’s work is that public spaces are intended for use, but are activated by use. He is intentional about defining his subject as the “built environment,” separate from the natural environment but existing alongside. This is the environment with which we engage and that is more than just buildings and streets and shops, but includes the in-between places…alleyways, the spaces between buildings, and parking lots…all of which have an effect on our lives. Interestingly, as I read this, I remembered several foundational events in my life that took place against the backdrop of parking lots. Another of the author’s primary assertions is that the industrialized transition from a pedestrian society to an automobile society de-humanized our interactions. Streets no longer accounted for walking after the industrial revolution, but were built to accommodate automobiles, instead. This pushed our interactions out, away from homes that we previously could walk by as we traversed our environment and potentially interact with neighbors, yet now we are all walled off in our vehicles, not only limited in our interactions with one another, but tending to view each other as less than human as we are encased by steel. Zoning laws (something that the author is firmly against) then moved homes and businesses apart, disadvantaging many because a vehicle is now required to do even the most mundane of tasks in many places in our country. Public transit is generally not a priority. A by-product of this, the author describes, is the “safe haven” philosophy, a relatively recent evolution in Western thought. In this philosophy, we view our homes as safe havens within which we can isolate ourselves from interaction with the world. The practical upshot of this is that Christian influence in our communities and the public sphere (or, at least, meaningful Christian influence) has diminished. We no longer have to engage with our neighborhoods, and often don’t. Our children don’t learn how to do so as a result. The way to effect change in the polis, Jacobsen argues, is to engage the neighborhoods in which we live. When problems arise, engaging with other and working them out, instead of immediately calling the police, for example. I can’t help but think, as well, that this reduces the need for excessive law enforcement in our communities, and just may, were it to become a common practice, divert us away from our march toward a police state, as well. Jacobsen goes on to describe a church liturgical interface with the built environment, which I won’t outline here as it is lengthy, but it is compelling. For all of the author’s excellent points, he is absolutist in his framing of his theological engagement from the standpoint that human dignity is only affirmed and protected when in a well-functioning urban environment. I find this to be strikingly short-sighted, as it ignores a large portion of our country that lives in rural environments. In these rural environments, not having an automobile (a state in which Jacobsen implies is closer to Godliness….I don’t entirely disagree, but…) is not an option. There is a sense that the author views rural environments as somehow lesser, which, for all of his thought-provoking points, is a perception that we can scarcely afford given today’s culture wars. Still, The Space Between will change the way you view your engagement with your neighborhoods, working space, and others around you for the better. If your academic interests lean at all in this direction, or if this sounds at all interesting to you, then this is certainly a worthwhile read. This review first appeared at https://www.unobtrusivelucidity.com/2...

  4. 4 out of 5

    David Shelton

    I don’t know of too many Biblical Christians who are interested in the built environment and its many implications on our lives, but as a Christian and Civil Engineer, I am one of them. I found this book to be fantastic. The author, Eric Jacobsen, is a Presbyterian (PCA) Pastor and he does a great job of laying out different elements of urban design and how they affect our life. He then breaks down how Christians should think about the Urban Environment from a Biblically sound, Kuyperian theolog I don’t know of too many Biblical Christians who are interested in the built environment and its many implications on our lives, but as a Christian and Civil Engineer, I am one of them. I found this book to be fantastic. The author, Eric Jacobsen, is a Presbyterian (PCA) Pastor and he does a great job of laying out different elements of urban design and how they affect our life. He then breaks down how Christians should think about the Urban Environment from a Biblically sound, Kuyperian theological position. He explains the importance of urban design without going overboard, recognizing how design affects community while also recognizing that sin is the true destroyer of our communities (pg 87). My short summary: community occurs in places. Over the past 50 years in the United States we have totally devalued public places by designing our cities for cars rather than people, contributing to our isolated, individualistic society. Jacobsen rightly points that better design in itself will not create community, which was proved by some of the New Urbanist developments, but it can help. He also explains some of the underlying beliefs of the suburbs, i.e. the ‘home is haven’ mindset with the closed, nuclear family as the model which has contributed to kids such as myself being less mature than previous generations. Finally, he discusses the importance of Sabbath and how few public places are created for rest in our contemporary society. My only critique would be that he could have made it more Gospel-Centered by discussing how Christ’s redemption of the world plays out in the Urban environment. I also would have appreciated a more thorough discussion of mission as I believe there are many more implications that could have been discussed. Overall though, this is a great book. As I mentioned, it is right in my wheelhouse as it combined my faith in Christ with a personal interest and gave me a deeper, more full understanding of the Built Environment than I had previously. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in Urban Design and/or is a Christian.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Schlabs

    Excellent book that could serve as an introduction to urban planning for pastors and an introduction to biblical theology for urban planners. Very well researched and written with a great deal of further reading. A fantastic book on the intersection of Christianity and culture.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    What kind of car would Jesus drive? And he certainly would have to drive, were he to initiate a ministry in 21st century America, for it is an place impossible to navigate otherwise. The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment explores the spiritual, religious aspects of ...urban planning. A book that quotes liberally from both the Judeo-Christian bible and authors like Jane Jacobs makes for a decidedly odd and manifestly intriguing combination, at least for someone like What kind of car would Jesus drive? And he certainly would have to drive, were he to initiate a ministry in 21st century America, for it is an place impossible to navigate otherwise. The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment explores the spiritual, religious aspects of ...urban planning. A book that quotes liberally from both the Judeo-Christian bible and authors like Jane Jacobs makes for a decidedly odd and manifestly intriguing combination, at least for someone like myself, for whom the built environment is a dear subject. Although authors like urbanist authors like Jim Kunstler often address the way the built environment affects the human spirit -- speaking of a building as honoring and comforting people , or distressing and demeaning us -- this is a distinctly religious spirituality explored here. A key concept is that of shalom: while a common meaning of it is simply 'peace', author Eric Jacobsen writes that it has a fuller meaning, one that refers to a state of being where all is right with the world, essentially, where relations between people and relations between people and the divine are as they should be. This idea allows him to explore 'secular' concepts like walkability and mixed-used environments for their religious value.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    I'm giving this 5 stars not because it's perfect or because I agree with all its ideas, but of the many books I've been reading this winter/spring on the topic of space and place, I found it far and away the most practical and helpfully constructed, even as it remains rooted in robust Christian theology. Jacobsen roots his presentation of New Urbanism and other models in a unified Kingdom theology that moves from the garden to the city (with gardens). It was good to get a fairly comprehensive tr I'm giving this 5 stars not because it's perfect or because I agree with all its ideas, but of the many books I've been reading this winter/spring on the topic of space and place, I found it far and away the most practical and helpfully constructed, even as it remains rooted in robust Christian theology. Jacobsen roots his presentation of New Urbanism and other models in a unified Kingdom theology that moves from the garden to the city (with gardens). It was good to get a fairly comprehensive treatment of what that journey has, does, and can look like. The text is divided into three broad categories: orientation, participation and engagement. I found the discussions helpful, regardless of where one might live. Certainly the critiques of exurban development is strong, but even there, I didn't find it overly judgmental. Local communities matter. How those spaces are organized matters. How our local churches are located within communities matter. How individual actors behave with these localized communities matters. Jacobsen gives some great fodder for how to have these conversations and to engage our built environments with greater faithfulness and fruitfulness.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Celia

    This book makes the ideas behind the New Urbanism movement more accessible to non-professionals. How we can change the built environment to improve our communities and our lives. It is such a pity that because it is Christian book many people won't read it. The built environment has a big impact on our lives. Public health studies have shown the layout of streets and parks in your neighbour hood influences how much you exercises and how much you will mingle with your neighbours and form relations This book makes the ideas behind the New Urbanism movement more accessible to non-professionals. How we can change the built environment to improve our communities and our lives. It is such a pity that because it is Christian book many people won't read it. The built environment has a big impact on our lives. Public health studies have shown the layout of streets and parks in your neighbour hood influences how much you exercises and how much you will mingle with your neighbours and form relationship. However much of this information is only known by professionals who work in the field of urban design. This book is a great introduction to ideas behind the New Urbanism movement. Most books on New Urbanism are written for professionals in the fields of urban planning and architecture. This book makes these ideas accessible to everyone who interested how to make better communities.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Carter

    I loved this book! It further developed my convictions about cities and neighborhoods. I might quibble with a few of his points (i.e. I think he is unfair to the "Two Kingdoms" theory). But I wish every thoughtful Christian would read this book and think more deeply about questions like where to live, what makes for a flourishing community, and how our lives have been profoundly and adversely affected by unbiblical notions of the good life that have been accepted uncritically.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    A Christian's first book of urbanism, reflecting passions both for Biblical Christianity and for life in communities. It makes a persuasive case that Christians should care about the design of towns. Thorough, sometimes dense prose, interspersed with anecdotes and thought-provoking suggestions like "the orange juice test."

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    This book was a giveaway. The author presented subject matter and many ideas that I had not been exposed to previously. Much of the content was presented in an academic or text book style that was rich in detail and deep in substance. I am glad that I read this book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    A great introduction to get Christians thinking about the benefit of smart urban design.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Robert Baird

    The Planning theory in this book is very solid and presented in a very concise and digestible way. Lots of good, important theology as well.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mitch Kelly

  15. 4 out of 5

    Steve White

  16. 5 out of 5

    Grant Humphreys

  17. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

  18. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea Ady

  19. 4 out of 5

    1801 Study

  20. 4 out of 5

    Gary

  21. 5 out of 5

    Andy Bean

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alice

  23. 4 out of 5

    Edward

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lyndi

  25. 4 out of 5

    Chuck

  26. 5 out of 5

    Teresa Brice

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dustin Dekoekkoek

  28. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Rutenber

  29. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jennie

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