Archives for the month of: March, 2015

We toured the Columbia Parc housing development complex in New Orleans that was constructed post Katrina, and it was amazing on so many levels. Based on the successful East Lake housing complex in Atlanta, GA, Columbia Parc is a mixed income housing complex = 1/3 public housing + 1/3 low-income + 1/3 market-rate homes. All income levels are mixed throughout the complex, so there is true integration in the community. There are long wait lists for all types of housing, even the market-rate housing. The design follows the principles for “place-based community development”, which means that the complex not only offers housing but offers all social services and amenities needed from so many facets. I felt like this was a little piece of heaven– the idea of true shalom, wholeness, deep restoration of all individuals at all levels of the community.

Here are some of the aspects that really stood out to me as being incredibly thoughtful:

Community (re)building: The original public housing development, St Bernard Housing Project, had 900+ units. Katrina flooded and wiped out the housing, and Columbia Parc was built to replace it. They were originally going to replace the units 1:1 but were unable to get enough land to do so. They also reached out to almost all the original residents to ask them if they wanted to return to the area, but only 20% of them wanted to come back. Those who used to live in the public housing project have first priority on the wait list to return.

Safety and smart urban planning: The crime rate has dropped dramatically in this community. In the past few years, there have been only two attempted break-ins. The planners redesigned the roads so that they would be a perfect grid, making it easy for police to patrol the neighborhood and for first responders to reach any part of the complex. Also, the townhouses are clustered in a way such that the parking can be gated off at night, and families can feel safe.

Upwardly mobile: The homes in the complex are all leased. They are now building single family homes for sale adjacent to the complex for those who eventually save enough to buy a home. That way those folks can stay in their community and not have to move away to another neighborhood.

Environmentally friendly: Most of the homes are LEED silver, which means utility bills are $50-60 per month. The senior homes are LEED platinum, so the bills are $5-6 per month!

Economically sustainable: The complex will be subsidized through profits from a new public golf course designed by Rees Jones (who also designed Congressional in MD) that will be built nearby.

Aesthetically pleasing: All homes are well designed with touches of New Orleans architecture to maintain consistency with the neighborhood. The construction is high quality and all homes have private porches and are equipped with granite countertops and steel appliances. The residents have access to great amenities including a well-equipped fitness center, computer room/office center sponsored by FedEx, community movie theater, swimming pool, etc. There is also a really nice meeting room that the complex rents out to companies for corporate meetings.

Health care: Columbia Parc also built a federally ? medical clinic onsite, so that people do not have to travel all the way downtown to receive medical care. The clinic also serves folks who are not residents of CP, so it’s a real asset to the entire neighborhood.

Job placement: Kingsley House (?) provides job placement for all unemployed residents in the complex. One of the three criteria to live at Columbia Parc is for the head of household to have 20 hours of employment per week, and only one person has ever been evicted b/c they could not meet that criterion. The other two criteria are that residents must not have been incarcerated in the past 7 years and all school-aged children must attend school.

Cradle to college education: One of the best providers of early childhood education, Educare, has a location at Columbia Parc. Each parent pays about $25(?) a month per child but it actually costs $18K per child per year. Each child receives 2 healthy meals a day plus snacks, and also has a backpack full of food to bring home on Fridays (I think the program is called Backpack Blessings). Columbia Parc is also building an elementary school and a high school on site so that cohorts of children can stay together from Head Start to 12th grade, instead of being scattered all over the city.

Fresh food: They are building an on-site supermarket. I get the impression that neighborhood is basically a food desert.

I just loved how thoughtful this was and I wish that all communities could be like this. It just felt so right, as though the Kingdom had really come.

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I saw the movie Atonement, based on the novel of the same name, and I was super irritated. Mainly because I thought it was completely absurd that someone could possibly atone for the injury they had inflicted on others simply by rewriting their stories into a book but pasting on a happy ending. How did it really change the reality and tragedy of what happened?

Then I just watched the movie Shadowlands (I think it was the older PBS version), based on C.S. Lewis’ marriage to Joy Davidman and his book, A Grief Observed, where he reflects on Joy’s passing. It turns out that Lewis most identified with the little boy, Digory, in  A Magician’s Nephew, the 6th installment in The Chronicles of Narnia. Digory’s mother is extremely ill, and in the end, Digory travels to Narnia and obtains a magical apple which saves her life. And everything comes right. It’s what Lewis wished he could have done to save his mother, who had died when he and his brother were very young. And then this is what he wishes he could do to save his wife Joy’s life. Joy was diagnosed with advanced bone cancer, and then had a miraculous reprieve for two years, but then ultimately passed away.

So maybe it’s just not possible in this life to find truly redemptive endings. Everything shall pass away, good and bad. Even at some point, Digory’s mother passed away. No apple could help her live forever. The refrain in Shadowlands was that everything is shadow — we live in shadows until we pass into Heaven, which is Reality. It’s a cold reality right now though because we all crave that happy ending, that deep resolution, right here and now. This is why we rewrite our stories to have endings like that. But these are merely glimpses of what is to come.

Perfectionism has gotten a bad rap, but people always say that the pursuit of excellence is noble and worthy. I think that excellence is often a luxury, and we have to consider that excellence in one area may come at the expense of excellence in another. Take the person who stays late at work every night for a week to polish off and write the perfect report. The report is excellent, but their home life suffered, especially if they have a spouse and kids. Or, as another example, consider those who are star athletes and have spent years and years training and perfecting their bodies. Their minds and personalities may not be nearly as developed and they may be a lopsided person in many ways, even if they have Olympic medals. It’s a zero sum game. Is it better to be off the charts and stellar in one particular way, but underdeveloped in most others, or be well-rounded across the board? Occasionally we’ll meet people who seem to have it all, be excellent in multiple facets, and perhaps they won the genetic lottery, but I do think there are always tradeoffs, no exceptions.

There’s this myth that we should just do everything really well and intentionally, whether it’s brushing our teeth, washing dishes, writing a dissertation, being a parent, or running a company. We each have a set of responsibilities to attend to, usually with limited time and resources, and sometimes victory means just getting all (or most or even some) of them done in a way that passes muster. Sometimes we are in survival mode and it’s the best we can do — our own internal version of excellence even if not recognized by others as such. In other seasons, we may have more margin to actually do them well and with care and relish. Or there are instances when how we perform is good enough to get the job done, so why bother expending more resources to perfect it? At what point does the pursuit of excellence cross into the territory of narcissism and vanity?

As a recovering perfectionist, I hardly advocate doing a shoddy job. That being said, sometimes I think we take the pursuit of excellence too seriously. There just seems to be a lot of pressure to “continuously improve,” to borrow some business jargon. This just becomes exhausting and draining. Maybe there are some seasons for growth and other seasons to lie fallow and simply be. Maybe no matter how we try, we might get better in some ways but we will never be perfect, so let’s just get comfortable with that. Maybe we’re totally acceptable as we are just this very moment.