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Think Different, A Review

Think Different is a comprehensive discourse on a whole array of fascinating ideas. Primary among them is the concept of urban reform and revival, and the role that religious communities have and are poised to play in the future.


With this somewhat vague framework of what an urban religious community is, most of the essayists set out to answer whether these things are problem solvers or trouble makers. Many make the more obvious case that, due to the public good that urban churches and congregations do in their charitable work, they must be problem solvers.

One contributor, James Watson, advocates that urban religious communities should “become” trouble makers because the mission of the Christian church particularly is to shake society-at-large out of its complacency. There are sporadic strategic criticisms of urban religious communities, but there is no strong coherent attempt to play devil’s advocate.

A great deal of focus is made on how religious communities, particularly churches, should interact with city planners and municipal officials in order to play a more participatory role in city building. But there is also an acknowledgement of how radically the urban landscapes of North America have changed since the Second World War, and what impact that change has had on religious communities.

This emergence is what Sandalack calls the “big box churches” that fret about zoning laws and parking lots, as well as what Menzies’ identifies as churches, mosques, and synagogues becoming more isolated from the city-at-large (and, more importantly, each other) while relocating to suburbia. It is from this point that essayists like Kuykendall, Miller, and others advocate that religious communities must seize a more active role in urban planning if these downtown cores are to retain “sacred spaces”.

The most interesting idea, however, comes from Robert Joustra, who posits that municipal authorities should take the same role in fostering the growth of religious institutions as they do with businesses, because of the critical public goods they provide. This he argues despite that both business and religion are supposed to be rigidly separated from government.

At the end of the book the picture is painted of an urban Canada at a crossroads in terms of what we, as citizens, want our towns and cities to be: whether that choice is Kuykendall’s harmonious “Bedford Falls” or the debauchery of “Pottersville”. In sum, Think Different has a great deal to contribute to continued debates on urbanization.

Linked to Cardus' Social Cities research project.

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