Passover and New Urbanism

MLewyn's picture

A few days ago, I came to Atlanta to spend the Jewish holiday of Passover with my family, a holiday commemorating the deparature of Hebrew slaves (also known as "the Exodus") from Egypt about 3300 years ago.

At one level, this liberation was about freedom- and so is new urbanism.  Just as the Exodus liberated the Hebrews from Egyptian kings, new urbanism seeks to liberate Americans from the four-wheeled kingdom of automobile-dependent sprawl. 

But both the Exodus and new urbanism are more complex.  The Hebrews may have left Egypt merely to be free from slavery, but ultimately they decided to impose responsibilities upon themselves, by creating a Jewish legal system that in some ways (especially during Passover) can seem restrictive.   And over the past two centuries, Judaism has been racked by conflict over how to balance freedom and responsibility- in particular, whether to strictly follow premodern rules and customs, or whether to become more flexible in order to enable Jews to function more effectively in the modern world.

New urbanism also involves a tension between freedom and responsibility.  At the festive meal on the first two nights of Passover (the Seder) participants usually focus primarily on freedom from Egyptian slavery.  Similarly, some new urbanists are primarily interested in freedom from sprawl. 

But the Exodus ultimately became merely a means to the broader end of creating a new religion.  Similarly, new urbanists see urbanism as merely a means to broader ends such as social equity and environmental responsibliity. 

One major difference between these movement is that in the Bible, God partially resolves the conflict by giving the Jews commandments.  But in our world, we will have to resolve these tradeoffs on our own.



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