Cities have been on my mind lately, partly because we just helped my son and daughter-in-law move from one city to another. From Chicago here, to Minneapolis. I have a long history with both these cities. I went to college in Chicago and have loved it ever since. I have family and friends there and so have visited often over the years, particularly after my son also went to college there and then planted roots and stayed. As for Minneapolis, I’ve lived here, in the city limits, nearly all of my adult life. My other son went to school in Boston, but he now lives in New York City and has been our guide and teacher for understanding that overwhelming but glorious place. My husband is a student of skyscrapers and other city architecture. You could say we’re a city-type family.
The summer issue of Comment magazine is focused on cities (“The Other Side of the City”), and I’ve been reading it with interest. The essays in this issue are challenging my thinking about cities. Despite my confidence in getting on a subway or finding a restaurant, how much do I really know about the inner workings or social architecture of the cities I love? Coincidentally, the issue’s first page is Carl Sandburg’s poem, "Chicago."
Editor James K. A. Smith writes in the title essay,
[T]his issue also invites you to consider the unseen side of the city, the social infrastructure that undergirds it—the web of institutions and systems that make it possible, like the hidden girders and encased skeletons that hold up our skyscrapers. The city isn't just a mission field, a dense audience for Gospel proclamation; it is also a human cultural creation, born of necessity and desire, a way that humans seek to live together. But such a reality is not magic, nor is it merely "natural;" it is an astounding cultural feat that requires constant maintenance, renewal, and reform, especially in a fallen world. Infrastructure isn't sexy and doesn't get much press. Nobody moves to the city for the sewers, sanitation, or the municipal master plan. And yet these invisible skeletons of the city are what sustain its life.
You can read the complete essay here as well as an essay by Milton Friesen, “The City is Complex: Lessons from The Wire.” The rest of the issue is accessible only by print or digital subscription, which I recommend by the way. Comment is a quarterly magazine (tagline: “public theology for the common good”) and is always filled with themed and thought-provoking material.
What cities have you known and loved?
[Photo: Taken approaching Chicago's Gold Coast, southbound on Lakeshore Drive.]