As the United States and Europe plan for fewer cars in their cities and increased renewable energy infrastructure, how can the church adapt?
No Cars in the Land of Make-Believe…
My daughter, like most toddlers, is obsessed with Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, an animated spin-off of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. All the talking owls, cats, toddlers and tigers have human roles: postal worker, teacher, baker, and the music man.
What they don’t have are cars.
Other than the Speedy Delivery truck that delivers packages, everyone uses Trolley, an autonomous old-school trolley. Toddlers learn the value of waiting for the trolley, of what happens when they are late to the stop, and fellow passengers look out for each other–after they are buckled in, of course. The Land of Make-Believe has no automobiles–and life looks pretty good, judging by the catchy songs and the happy community.
…or in the Cities of the Future?
Today, American and European cities and municipalities have begun envisioning what urban areas might look like with fewer cars and alternative energy sources to lessen demand. As lawless urban sprawl turns into networked hubs via mass transit, it’s changing the way how people travel to and use the cities.
The city of Lyon, France, has decreased the amount of car use even as their population is growing:
The number of cars entering the city has fallen by 20% over the past decade, without even a congestion-charging scheme (Vesco says it would impose a disproportionate burden on the less well-off, who tend to drive higher-polluting vehicles). And even though Lyon’s population is expected to rise by more than 10% over the next decade, he is targeting a further 20% drop in car use. The car parks that used to run alongside the banks of Lyon’s two rivers have already been removed, and human parks opened in their place.
Closer to America, my city of Portland, Oregon, built a bridge over our main river that only allows mass transit, bikes, and pedestrians (and emergency vehicles), and one of the proposed highways instead became a walking loop around the city. A high percentage of shoppers and sporting event attendees ride transit instead of driving in. I don’t even have a car most days as I ride the mass transit to my church and most community engagements.
As cities improve their mass transit infrastructure, or rebuild their aging ones, the future is one with fewer cars, not more.
It’s really about infrastructure.
Alongside these efforts at transportation infrastructure reform are infrastructure improvements in the ways of alternative energy. Tesla Motors, known for their electric car, had to do serious work to provide the infrastructure necessary for their electric car and now for the Powercell which will reside in people’s homes:
The Tesla Powerwall can store power from solar panels, from the electricity grid at night when it is typically cheaper, and provide a secure backup in the case of a power outage [which] could make solar-powered homes completely independent of the traditional energy grid…The goal is complete transformation of the entire energy infrastructure of the world, to completely sustainable zero carbon.
While it seems like alternative energy and mass transit are not linked, they are both shifts in the infrastructure of the country. And as infrastructure shifts, they will affect the political, social, and economic climates…and indeed the church climate as well.
With the increased politics around the decaying infrastructure of the nation and the need for better bridges, roads, and the arteries of America, there’s an opportunity for courageous cities to capture this entrepreneurial spirit of a carless and fossil-fuel reduced future–and I hope many of them do.
How will the Church respond?
The shifting infrastructure around energy and transportation will be critically important for the church to respond to.
In our history, some incredible times of church growth came alongside the shifting infrastructure of the day.
- The spread of Christianity to Asia came via the developed land and sea trade routes between the Roman Empire and Asia.
- The spread of Methodism to America came via circuit riders who networked new colonial towns together and made that their equestrian beat, and roads west made spreading the Gospel from coast-to-coast easier.
- The rise of suburban megachurches came via cars and huge parking lots who allowed for ease of arrival away from inner-city traffic.
- The rise of online preachers and celebrity Christians came via the Internet and its ability to connect disparate people and places.
As we shift into the post-car age, how can the Church adapt?
Some considerations for church adaptation:
- Consider mass transit when church-planting: be not afraid to plant churches on rental property or smaller locations closer to the mass transit lines. My church is an inner-city church with two pieces of valuable infrastructure: We have parking and a mass transit stop right in front. So we have the advantage of two pieces of infrastructure that makes it easier for people to arrive than neighborhood or suburban churches. Just as businesses look at traffic patterns before deciding on locations, considering mass transit is a prime location for the future.
- Encourage alternative transportation. Install chargers for electric cars and designate some parking spots as ride-share spots. Install a bike rack for commuters, either to your church or just the neighborhood. Participate in neighborhood conversations about biking safety and bike lanes. By becoming known as a church supporting alternative transportation, when it grows from a niche to the majority, the Church will already have it as part of their culture.
- Participate in renewable energy: by participating in alternative energy sources, the Church will be encouraging this shift as well.
Thoughts? Thanks for reading…how else is the infrastructure of the world changing–especially in America?