Income Inequality and a Mission of Green Spaces

Tim DeChant over at Per Square Mile offers a provocative post on how the presence (and absence) of trees in urban settings reveals the wealth of the neighborhood. He contends that wealthier communities tend to have more green space than do the poorer communities. In a follow up post, he offers several images from space to support this idea in which he compares wealthier and poorer communities in the same city with each other. The absence of flourishing trees in the poorer communities is quite apparent.

What I am left wondering then is a handful of questions around urban mission:
* How might this reality of treed or treeless space impact the scope of urban missions?
* Is cultivating green spaces and planting trees part of the church’s calling in these poorer communities?
* How do we encourage conversations within our communities about the relationship between economic poverty and the lack of green spaces?

If Christian mission is to be holistic and comprehensive in its embodiment of the gospel (reconciliation of all things in Christ – Colossians 1:15-20), perhaps our engagement with communities entangled in poverty would benefit from more deliberate attention to cultivating flourishing green spaces. If trees are now seen as a luxury by cities, as De Chant suggests, planting trees and cultivating green space in urban communities has the potential to serve as a prophetic critique and profound counter-cultural proclamation of the gospel: the lavishness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ includes a desire that all people and all communities would be blessed with thriving, flourishing creational life. Green space is not a luxury reserved for the wealthy, but a creational gift designed to benefit all of us.

I am thankful to be part of a church community that is involved in an urban community garden. The Hillstreet Garden is a step in the right direction. Reading De Chant’s article, I am left wondering what an even more robust, city-wide vision for churches cultivating green spaces could look like.

If you have examples of Christian communities that have an emphasis on cultivating urban green spaces as part of their mission, I would love to hear about them. Feel free to share your stories or examples in the comments below.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Income Inequality and a Mission of Green Spaces

  1. This is not just for urban settings. There are places where the suburbs are seeing urban problems as well. Plus, so many suburbs are designed to isolate people in their own homes, and often the way that a church sets up its green space doesn’t help with this. My last church was most definitely suburban. We had an unusually large tract of land, too, tucked in amongst suburban developments. Three things I noticed about green space there. (1) Our preschool distinguished itself by using a wooded area as part of its curriculum. Those kids were outside whenever they could be, learning from the beginning that God had made some pretty wonderful things. (2) We were in the lowest income neighborhood in our suburb with the highest percentage of hispanic immigrants. Butting onto our property were some low income apartment complexes. People from these places especially used our parking lot as a short cut. Often, they would sort of give you this guilty look if you happened to be in the parking lot, like they were worried they were trespassing. When we were looking into a building expansion, I advocated (though, without much success…) that it would a mission opportunity for us to look into how we could landscape the parking lot so that there was basically a walking corridor of some sort that by its very set-up let people know we were OK with them walking on our property, and even stopping to rest in the shade or enjoy the gardens. (3) And, the best thing: A few years ago, I wanted to do some vegetable gardening. But since I was living in a condo with no yard, I decided to take over some space at the back of the church property with a friend from church whose yard was too small for her to do much gardening. We got this huge veggie garden going, and had the preschoolers involved in helping with it. our preschool had a few scholarship slots, and one of the little girls on scholarship’s mother started asking if she could take some things from the garden. Of course! And then she started asking if she could garden…what an opportunity. It turns out that several of the immigrants in our neighborhood had grown up in rural places and were expert gardeners, but were in these crappy little apartments with no opportunity to grow things. By no means has this opportunity blossomed into all it could be, but there’s so much potential for innovative ministry using your church’s land, no matter how little you have, or whether you’re urban, suburban, or rural!

    • That’s a helpful reframe, Erica. The space challenges are not simply in urban environments, nor is it necessarily that space is the biggest need. The way you describe your gardening interactions also points to needs for experiencing community and for opportunities to use skills. Thanks for the examples.

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