My friend Chaplain Jeff and I have talked a lot about the Think Tank’s Structures of Support project. He works at a social services agency in Philly called The Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission. They provide support to those who, in many cases, have non-existent or weak networks. The support they offers varies but is often in the form of housing, food, spiritual support, or friendship.
For Chaplain Jeff and I, discussions of support often lead back to the physical environment. What is it about our landscape that has contributed to weak support structures? Or is it nostalgia that tricks us into believing that there was ever a time when kids were safely “free-ranged,” or when people asked their neighbors for a cup of flour, or when we knew just who to call when our car needed a jump.
I have long been convinced that the built world is at least one contributor to our ailing civil society. We traverse the landscape trapped safely in the bubble of our cars, only to be left vulnerable on the side of the highway when our tire goes flat. We search our cell phone for a person to call. But more likely, we remedy the anemic nature of our contact list by enrolling in (and paying for) a roadside assistance service—one of many “services” designed to do what our families, friends and neighbors used to do: help us in times of need.
I interviewed Chaplain Jeff a few weeks ago, and he shared some great insights into how the built environment has drastically affected the way he engages his neighbors. He draws out the differences between the town and the planned community by sharing stories about growing up in Lawrenceville, New Jersey and then moving to a planned community as an adult. Have a listen! (3 minutes)