Nurturing home

Carrie Gress writes on a theology of home:

Home. It is a magical word that resonates with all of us. Even those from broken homes, or homes that no longer exist, there is still something in the idea that is sought after. Home is that place where we are meant to be safe, nurtured, known for who we are, to freely live and love.

Home’s universal appeal populates culture. Take Me Home, Country Road, Sweet Home Alabama, and I’ll Be Home for Christmas are a few songs that invoke the themeMovies and literature end happily with protagonists, like Odysseus, finally going home. The entire goal of the American pass-time of baseball is to be safe at home. YouTube videos of joyful homecomings fill up our social media feeds and we spend billions of dollars constructing and decorating our own houses, turning them into Home Sweet Home.

Our homes are the great theatre where the drama of our lives unfolds, as G.K. Chesterton eloquently said:

“The place where babies are born, where men die, where the drama of mortal life is acted, is not an office or a shop or a bureau. It is something much smaller in size and much larger in scope. And while nobody would be such a fool as to pretend that it is the only place where people should work, or even the only place where women should work, it has a character of unity and universality that is not found in any of the fragmentary experiences of the division of labour.”

Home, by its nature, foreshadows heaven. Pope Saint John Paul II’s final words in this life were “Let me go to the house of the Father.” He wanted to go home – to the home that all of us are willed by God to go to, even if he allows our own will to lead us somewhere else.

Cultivating and nurturing a home is one of the most important things I can imagine doing in life. Growing up, I saw how my grandfather, grandmother, mother, and uncle all worked together to nurture our home, and their example is one I hope to carry forward someday in my own family.

Rittenhouse Square, early autumn

As I was walking along Walnut Street to the Collegium Institute’s symposium earlier this week, it was nearing 6pm and families and folks were out and about, walking home from work, walking to dinner, biking wherever, and still-green Rittenhouse Square was accompanied by two young musicians:

I stopped to admire the scene, experience the moment, and appreciate the whole thing. These are the little sort of moments we miss all too often in the rush to experience something else.

L e t ‘ s  s l o w  d o w n . . .

‘Strangers’ in Philadelphia

It was really great, late-summer-feeling weather in Center City Philadelphia yesterday. I’m in town wrapping up odds and ends, and as evening came on walked over to the Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute at 19th and Walnut for the Collegium Institute‘s “Strangers in a Strange Land” talk/symposium.

Fran Maier led a fruitful conversation on the topic of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s book of the same name, released last year. While the role and place of Christianity in American life is increasingly in doubt, there’s no doubt about the necessity of the theological virtue of Christian hope.

I think the last Collegium event I attended was Roger Scruton’s talk at Penn.

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An evening conversation about Archbishop Chaput’s recent book and the future of American Catholicism.

Fran Maier: Senior Advisor to the Archbishop of Philadelphia and former editor of the National Catholic Register.

Michael P. Moreland: University Professor of Law and Religion, and Director of the Eleanor H. McCullen Center for Law, Religion and Public Policy at Villanova University.

Jessica Murdoch: Associate Professor of Fundamental and Dogmatic Theology at Villanova University, and member of the National Advisory Council of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

First Bank

Anna Merriman reports that the First Bank of the United States in Old City, Philadelphia will soon be refurbished as likely reopened in the next few years. Here’s the First Bank from Google Streetview:

The bank, built by the federal government in the late 18th century, received an $8 million state grant last week, which will allow workers to refurbish the structure …

The First Bank money will go first toward bringing the South 3rd Street building’s heating and air conditioning up to date, as well as restrooms and masonry repairs, according to Philly.com.

It’s a big step for the building, which has been closed to the public for years. It was constructed following the Revolutionary War, when Alexander Hamilton proposed the idea of a national bank, allowing the government more financial control in the wake of war-related debt.

The First Bank remained until the early 1800s, when it was turned into Girard Bank, according to the National Parks Service. The interior was renovated a century later and, finally, in 1955, the building was purchased by the National Parks Service.

The Second Bank of the United States is right around the corner, now in the same Independence National Historical Park.

When I lived in Old City a few years ago I would often walk the block or so from our second floor Market Street apartment over to the First Bank and sit on its steps or (in warmer weather) splay out on the grass surrounding it to do work or take phone calls. I was sitting on those steps when we decided to commit to raising $50,000 to endow the Michael D. Walsh Student Broadcasters Trustee Scholarship at Penn State, for instance. That’s one of the things that springs to mind when I see that old facade.

I’m looking forward to seeing inside at some point.

Building incrementally

Andrew Price writes on what incrementalism actually means for developing healthy and organic communities. He presents four types of incremental development: incremental intensification, incremental implementation, incremental repurposing, and incremental architecture:

Incremental intensification often goes hand in hand with granularity. It keeps land ownership diversified, and it enforces good urban bones, since a separate building every so many feet means a destination such as a housefront or a shopfront every so many feet. It lowers the risk that an area will be negatively transformed, as it takes the form of many small bets (a few apartment buildings will pop up first, and if the demand is not there, no more apartment buildings will appear) rather than fewer large bets (the entire block is being replaced with 200 units). …

Incremental implementation means looking for low cost ways to rapidly prototype and iteratively improve. Henry Ford has a famous quote: “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they’d have asked for faster horses.” As with all products, the best way to design a product is to see what sells and watch people use it. By testing out the placement of the bike lanes and trees with chalk and cones first, we were able to try out multiple configurations and we even have the option of rolling back before we spent too much money. …

Incremental repurposing … It is often cheaper, faster, and less resource-intensive to adapt and reuse what already exists than to build new each time. … Our older urban areas and main streets are filled with buildings that have seen many generations of owners and uses. Zoning codes that allow uses to be mixed together, and allow older buildings to be incrementally updated (rather than denying any modifications because the older use no longer conforms to newer zoning or building codes), encourage buildings to be reused rather than demolished and rebuilt. …

Incremental architecture is the least common form of incrementalism, but it does happen. You often see this with large public buildings: the shopping mall adds on an expansion. The school constructs an extension so they can fit in more classrooms and a new gym. A house adds on a garage. …

Incrementalism does not mean doing things slowly: incremental development can be rapid and up to the task of reacting to pressing needs and dramatic societal changes. Incrementalism looks like experimenting, rapid prototyping, iteratively improving, and reducing the risks of bad decisions.

The graphics that Price includes are probably the best part; they convey these ideas so straightforwardly. I think once you get to a point where you start talking about the need for “comprehensive” solutions, it can generally be assumed that things have broken down. Incremental progress often obviates the need for comprehensive solutions, except in situations where orders of magnitude leaps have to be made.

Penn State Homes Sales

This mid-20th century “Penn State Homes Sales” office has sat on North Atherton Street, just a few minutes from Downtown State College, for decades. I wondered about it when first arriving at Penn State in 2005. In driving by it when leaving State College on Monday I noticed lots of equipment surrounding it, and thought this might be one of the last times I see it if it’s scheduled for demolition. I hopped out of my rental car and took this photo:

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I emailed a friend who grew up in the area to ask about it, and here’s what he wrote:

Yes, it was the rental/sales office for what was the mobile home park that existed back there up until the mid 2000s or so. I have a vague memory of visiting my aunt who lived there for a year sometime in the mid 80s… Although it was run down toward the end of its life it was actually pretty decent in the prime of days. There also wasn’t a ton of non-student housing available in the State College area back then either (believe it or not considering the expansion of housing options today).

And here’s a bit from Matt Carroll in the Centre Daily Times a few years ago on what looks like a park that was adjacent to this one:

The last of the North Atherton Street mobile home parks is closing.

Franklin Manor Mobile Home Park is shutting down, according to a letter sent Friday to residents and Patton Township officials. The 22 families that live in the park were informed that they have until Oct. 1 to find new homes.

The park is next to the former Penn State Mobile Home Park, which closed July 31.

Natalie Corman, Centre County Office of Adult Services director, was informed Friday that the mobile home park is closing, and she said officials already are organizing assistance for residents.

Owner Ed Temple, when reached Friday, said the condition of the park’s infrastructure is failing, as are many of its trailers, and that ultimately led to the decision to close.

“This winter was a tipping point,” Temple said. “So many people had failures, frozen-up water lines broke. It just became evident they were just not functional anymore.”

He said closing the park is a “difficult decision.” It was established by his father in 1953, and Temple grew up there.

“It’s been a situation where I had generations of people there — parents and now their children,” he said. “We’ve tried to facilitate it. It’s just come to the point where we have to do something.”

Temple said the park was not being closed to make way for development, but did not rule that out as a possibility in the future.

I hope this little office survives and is repurposed into something more publicly useful someday. It’s such an aesthetically distinct park of North Atherton Street, compared to the derivative shopping centers and hotels that line both sides the whole way north.

Labor Day in State College

Happy Labor Day. I’m in State College, Pennsylvania this morning and enjoying this beautiful late summer day on my friend’s South Allen Street front porch. A view from that porch below, from last week when I was in town, along with some scenes from Downtown State College and Penn State’s campus from yesterday. Penn State has its flags at half mast in honor of Sen. John McCain.

College football season has started, and autumn will be here in earnest before long. Looking forward to what the next few months have in store.

Downtown Steubenville

After visiting Fransiscan University of Steubenville yesterday, I drove downtown and explored a bit before hitting Route 7 South along the Ohio River, marking the Ohio and West Virginia boundaries. Downtown Steubenville doesn’t look to be in great shape, although the relatively recent rehabilitation of historic Fort Steuben was compelling. I didn’t realize Dean Martin was born in Steubenville. The American flag is flying at half mast in honor of Sen. John McCain.

So many towns and communities like this in America’s great middle, some on the track of natural reclamation by the countryside they once cut into, and others somewhere between health and sickness, just waiting for the promise of the Information Age and ubiquitous connectivity to breathe new life into the place.