Research Interests: Economics & the City
The Healthy City

What constitutes a good city? To make this Big Question more manageable, we start with the following promising perspectives.

a beautiful  townSome have proposed the liturgical city as the ideal toward which we should strive. It is a place that emphasizes ontological wealth—for example unhurried time, or the celebration of beauty (cf. Timothy Patitsas, Catherine Pickstock, Christopher Alexander).

Others, beginning perhaps from their own tastes, but supported by a lot of hard data about human health and physiology, have initiated an entire movement for so-called “walkable cities” (cf. Mark Fenton, Tim Burden, etc.). They contrast such cities with those where a ‘toxic environment’ makes it either too boring or too hazardous for walking to be part of one’s everyday lifestyle.

Finally, there are those who, having noted the emptying of oil reserves and the rapid filling of sinks for our wastes, are interested in cities that are sound from the ecological point of view (cf. Herman Daly and Jane Jacobs among others).

By promoting a conversation between the above perspectives, we hope to contribute to a reasonable consensus about what constitutes a city that is spiritually, aesthetically and physiologically healthy.

Consumerism, or a Culture of Gift?

It is easy to complain about consumerist capitalism. But consumerism has become an enduring institution because it is attractive, and because, in a perverse sense at least, 'it works.' The alternative will also have to be attractive, and will also have 'to work.'

Some philosophers (both in and out of the Christian tradition) have proposed as just such an alternative an economy and culture based on ‘gift.’ The idea here is to shift our whole motivational structure away from over-weaning self-interest and towards the making of things as a gift for others--and ultimately as a gift for God.

Is such an approach feasible?

The celebrated architect Christopher Alexander has written in his recently-published "The Nature of Order" that only by making things as a gift to God can we learn to create again an environment that is beautiful and alive, that allows us to be human.

Furthermore, an intriguing article by Adrian Walker (published in the book “Wealth, Poverty and Human Destiny”) makes the case that all economic activity already creates value only to the extent that what is made is intended as a kind of gift. Walker further notes that our natural human orientation to create things as gifts is continually frustrated by the liberal economic order.

Alexander and Walker have made a good start. Where do we go from there?