January 21, 2006

I’ve been aware of two urban villages being built within a few miles of our house. Yesterday as we were out driving around, we ran across two more. I’m not sure if urban village is the correct technical term, but it seems suitable. These are developments that are combining condos/townhouses with commercial areas that include shopping and dining to create a self-enclosed system of sorts. Some are adjacent to downtown areas for even more shopping/dining convenience, but some aren’t.

These are quite different from the acres being devoted to single family dwellings that were all around where we lived in Arizona. The concept seems to be a fairly new one — at least to me. I’m not sure if it is unique to the Seattle area because of land prices, or if it is something that is happening across the country.

Besides the fact that the townhouses seem crazy expensive, I can understand the appeal. It seems that people want to connect with others simply because of their regular proximity to each other. You are likely to see your neighbors each day while picking up a few groceries or stopping by a pub within walking range of your home. It is an “intamization” that is happening in these urban villages — people are looking for places to live that give a more intimate and relational feel.

If this trend continues, I wonder what effect it will have for many of the commercial areas that have been built up in the last 20-30 years. Especially the kinds of places that cover hundreds of acres with big box stores, national chain restaurants and multiplex movie theaters. I personally don’t see those going away. There are plenty of people still in classic suburban housing tracts, and even those in the urban villages will find that these complexes offer a centralized setting for things not available near their home.

I suppose the real question I have is who is choosing to live in these kinds of places? Will families find such a setting to be too constraining for their children? Is it mostly empty nesters and younger hipsters that desire to be right in the middle of where it is happening? And what will these people be looking for in a church community? Will they want something like the big box store/megachurch effect where they don’t mind leaving their little village to be amongst the conveniences? (And if so, how can we divert their consumer-bent drive to religion into genuine discipleship?) Or will they prefer something that connects them a church community akin to what their urban village offers?

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