a new economic geography and the church 2

These posts represent reflections on the implications of the economic crash for the Church based on The Atlantic March 2009 feature,  “How the Crash Will Reshape America” by Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class

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Relatively early in the essay, Richard Florida takes a look at the crash’s impact on New York City, since it is “the world’s preeminent financial center.” The presumed question goes something like this: New York is the preeminent global financial center, so won’t the crash severely alter much of what makes New York City, New York City both economically and culturally? 

Florida’s answer is basically, “no.” 

He writes, “New York’s openness to talent and its critical mass of it–in and outside of finance and banking—will ensure that it remains a global financial center” (p. 49). He sees trouble in the short term for NYC’s financial sector, and even admits, “lean times undoubtedly lie ahead for New York.” But he adds, “But perhaps not as lean as you’d think—and certainly not as lean as those that many lesser financial outposts are likely to experience.” The reason for this is that the percentage of financial jobs in NYC is just a little above the national average (around 8% in NYC, compared with 5.5% nationally). This ranks NYC lower than the likes of Bloomington, Des Moines, Hartford, Sioux Falls, Charlotte, Omaha, and Columbus, all of which “have a greater percentage of population working in the financial sector than New York does.” 

This points to what NYC has going for it—it is “much, much more than a financial center. … It is home to a diverse and innovative economy built around a broad range of creative industries.” For example, NYC disproportionally attracts “fashion designers, musicians, film directors, artists, and–yes–psychiatrists.” Urbanist Jane Jacobs research argues that “the jostling of many different professions and different types of people, all in a dense environment, is an essential spur to innovation… And innovation, in the long run, is what keeps cities vital and relevant.” 

The issue for the church, which come up again throughout these posts, is diversity of contexts throughout the country related to the impact of the economic collapse. An obvious example at present is the difference between Detroit and, say, Houston (since that’s where I live). It is always true that where we are located makes a huge difference in the challenges people face and the joy that fills their lives. But in the new economic geography (assuming Florida is correct) will exaggerate the truth of that maxim as some locales find themselves surprisingly resiliant (NYC) whereas others find themselves surprisingly vulnerable (Des Moines? Charlotte? Omaha?). The gospel speaks to all settings, but the pastoral and lay leadership needed to navigate the waters, particularly in those areas finding themselves surprisingly vulnerable. These shifts make for an unstable sense of collective identity. The pen has been yanked from their hands and the narrative is being rewritten, seemingly by the unseen hand of the crash’s far-reaching impact. 

Some of these themes will be considered in future posts as I move through the essay,  but some questions for ministry in those communities surprised to find themselves impacted as severely as they are might include: How can the Gospel narrate an alternative to the story of collapse and failure in cities and towns most affected? How can the Christian community offer an alternate communal identity to persons for whom a new nation-wide economic geography produces what they consider an undesirable shift in communal identity? How can the Church enflesh the love of Jesus for neighbors who are surprised to find themselves in need or for neighbors who are surprised to find themselves in closer proximity to some other neighbors?

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