Sunday, November 01, 2009

Promise, American Cities and Blue Sky Days

This morning, I woke up early and went to the church I used to go to in college, in Fort Worth, Texas. A friend of mine leads worship there (i.e. singer of the band). When I used to go there, between 7 and 5 years ago, the chapel area (the room with pews, facing the "stage") was much smaller. The church grew and so they built a large, new, slightly ostentatious building, with stone walls and large wooden doors. My guess is that there were about a thousand people in attendance. I sat in the very back corner, and as I looked out over the congregation, I was marked by the homogeny of people there - mostly white, middle to upper-middle-class, between the ages of thirty and fifty. This in no way brought about negative feelings. I was just marked that herein this coming together of Christian believers, sat a large portion of the bourgeois class, the managing body of the city of Fort Worth. These were many of the people that make the city work, they are the employers. I have nothing deeper to say about it, but perhaps that revelation brought about some of the thoughts that are swimming around in my head now.

After church, I hopped in my car and drove up Montgomery Avenue towards Camp Bowie Avenue. To my left, before a quaint old neighborhood, dilapidated old buildings lined the long street - a sorry looking, tin-roofed Dairy Queen, a piece-meal wood-walled convenience store, some small, rusty old wear-house facilities and an old converted gas station, painted powder blue, with an old, full-size, propeller-driven fighter-plane mounted on a post over the top of the building. To my right, looking towards the downtown skyline, there was the Trinity river valley, the beautiful botanic gardens, the Trinity river park, the stock-show, the natural history museum, the Kimball art museum and the Fort Worth Modern Art Museum. How is it that this street, a gateway to one of our country's best art districts, could have such an aesthetically unpleasing facade? I took a right onto Camp Bowie, a street once paved with bricks and with the gorgeous lawns of three incredible art museums, the Kimball, the Amon Carter and the Fort Worth Modern on my right, I drove past crumbling vacant retail and poorly planned condos on my left. On across University Drive, as Camp Bowie became West 7th, I looked out over the new urban retail development still being constructed and the adjacent Montgomery Ward building, now urban lofts with first floor retail. And that mess of a strip-mall shopping center, Lorded over by the Target Super-center behind it. There is so much promise in the city of Fort Worth, and yet such a dichotomy of overlooked dilapidation and myopic development. If the city were a neighborhood, it would be a mix of mansions and slum-shacks as next door neighbors, happily coexisting. I don't know if this is a great thing, or a terrible thing. I wish it were more ideal. I wish everything in the city was beautiful, well designed, well manicured. I wish there was an amazing light-rail system, narrower streets, with bike lanes, pedestrian-friendly first floor retail, with living spaces sitting on top. But it's not that way and maybe it never will fully be that way. Maybe this is just the way it is and the way that it's going to be in American cities.

I drove straight up into downtown and took a right on Summit Avenue and turned onto the highway, looking out over a clear blue sky as the high overpass curved around the Amtrak train yard on the outskirts of downtown. And I drove back into an ever more homogeneous suburban landscape.

I'm actually looking forward to the future, both my own life and the developmental future of the United States. Beautiful cities and big trees and rivers and blue skies are things that bring me joy. I know that these things exist and that they are good. I'm looking forward to continuing to live out my ideals, putting them into practice through art and design. And I'm going to be happy, even though poorly designed suburbs still exist; even though there is environmental destruction continuing throughout the world, I know that the beauty that brings me joy, brings me joy for a reason, because it was created by a beautiful God. And I know that might sound silly to you. And I know that it's all worth preserving, even though it's a frustrating struggle.

† This is a big church, although not technically a "mega-church." It's contemporary, meaning that the "worship music" is played in a style of downtempo acoustic rock. The Christian denomination is "Bible Church" which is considered non-denominational. It's a pretty tame, non-fundamentalist brand of the Christian religion. It's most essential doctrine is the belief that the first century, historical Jesus, was actually God in the body of a man.

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